Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson graduated from a small part in The Mummy Returns to a starring role in series spin-off The Scorpion King and hasn’t looked back. Yet the past few years have seen him follow in the footsteps of Vin Diesel and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the family friendly films, from the updated version of Get Smart to Disney adventure Race To Witch Mountain, kiddie caper The Tooth Fairy to frat pack comedy The Other Guys. Finally the Rock is back where he belongs in the action caper Faster.

The man known only as Driver (Johnson) upon his release from prison after a harrowing ten-year stint, with revenge on those that put him there his only motivating factor.  Cop (Billy Bob Thornton, Eagle Eye) is only days away from retirement (of course!) and is assigned to put an end to Driver’s killing spree. His partner (Carla Gugino, Watchmen) is not impressed with his work ethic and his ex-wife (Moon Bloodgood, Terminator: Salvation) is less than satisfied with his parenting skills, catching Driver seems to be more of a distraction than anything. Also hunting Driver trail is a geek turned assassin, known only as Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Going the Distance). Trying to balance is own perfectionist nature against the raw instincts of Driver, despite protests from his girlfriend Lily (Maggie Grace, Malice In Wonderland), he must catch up with his prey. It’s going to be a bloodbath.

Faster‘s “answers first, questions later” approach immediately distinguishes it from other films in the genre. Indeed, while each of the 27 vengeance films listed in that review have added to the canon or provided a unique twist on a tried and true storyline, Faster is in no danger of making top lists or being lauded with statuettes in the near future. Yet with its take no prisoners attitude, the film is a retro throwback to not just the classic revenge films of the 1970s (a mould well and truly established by Death Wish), but filtered through the Bruckheimer productions of the 1990s. Faster plants its tongue firmly in cheek, while simultaneously flipping its middle finger to critics who might dare to criticise its crazy energy. Like The Rock’s lead character, the film is wearing a tattoo showing that it is willing to take on all comers and beat them down if necessary.

Having as much in common with High Plains Drifter as a modern action film, Faster‘s surprising success lies in its ability to offer a fresh take on the overwhelmingly familiar. A terrific cast, including Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino, is actually used to flesh out the background detail for a change, rather than simply populating the fringes with wacky characters played for laughs. Thornton’s junkie-cop is reminiscent of his deeply flawed character in Bad Santa, and while it never reaches the dark comic heights of that modern masterpiece, Thornton gives us much to love in an otherwise bad character. There are undoubtedly clichés, as there are in every revenge film, but clichés are just another word for formula in this genre context. Reliance on formula, when abused, can lead to some fairly run-on-the-mill action films, and those films tend to be boring at best. Yet formulas continue to be used for a reason: they work. Formula has become shorthand for conveying complex human emotion down the barrel of a gun. Much like musicals, if the plot was too complex, when somebody burst into song (or in this case, fires a gun) it would seem patently ridiculous and out of step. Yet Faster succeeds by playing on these expectations, and turning them all up to 11.

Faster kicks into high gear from its earliest scenes, and much like Driver, the film itself is pacing around in a tiny space waiting to be let loose when we first meet it. Once it kicks into high gear, it very rarely lets up: shoot outs and high-speed car chases are barely slowed down by the odd and surprisingly touching musings on the nature of forgiveness. Let’s not get too deep though: Faster is fast and furious and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

The Reel Bits IconThe Reel Bits: Faster is incredibly action-packed: a few parts shooty, a little bit campy and believe it or not, a tiny bit philosophical as well. Surprisingly layered and unapologetically balls-to-the-walls, the movie is like a roller coaster: best done with your hands in the air.

Faster was released on February 3, 2011 in Australia by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

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