There’s nothing wrong with a little cheese every so often as long as it’s in moderation. I thought The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock, Dwayne Johnson’s revenge film, Faster, would be cheesy but worth the five bucks I paid for a Black Friday morning matinée.
This was not supposed to be cheese in moderation. This was supposed to be cheese in glorious excess.
I was hoping for another Taken, but I grossly overestimated Johnson’s massive shoulders abilty to carry even a generic action flick. I wasn’t the onlyy one wrong about that as CBS Films fired their chief operating officer after Faster sputtered to a sixth place opening week finish. With a budget of only $24 million the movie will probably recoup that easily when the international audiences, Blu-Ray and DVD sales and other secondary markets kick in, but if there were hopes for a sequel as the ending leaves open, it’s not happening.
A pity because I like old-fashioned big guys with bad attitudes and big guns movies and Johnson is a likeable lead even if he isn’t much of an actor (but neither was Schwarzenegger when he was making flicks like Faster in his sleep.) Unfortunately for fans of Johnson, since this stiffed, I fear The Tooth Fairy 2 won’t be far behind.
Until then let me count the way why Faster flopped.
It’s The Right Movie But Focused on the Wrong Guys: Dwayne Johnson is a bad-ass mofo and with his head shaved he’s nobody you’d want to have pissed off at you. Faster is about Dwayne’s bad-ass mofo character (only known as “Driver”) back on the streets after his prison and being extremely pissed off at the dirty rats who killed his bruddah. He will stop at nothing to kill them all. This guy is such a bad-ass even other bad asses take one look at his prison tattoos and run away crying for their mommies. Them’s some scary tats, but this is exactly the type of role Johnson was built to play. We want him to look like he could rip off your leg and beat you to death with it.
Too bad director George Tillman doesn’t tell us much else about Driver because he’s spending time telling us the details of the shitty life of a drug-addicted, disheveled cop with family issues named Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and a devilishly handsome, but quirky British hitman/yuppie/scumbag know only as Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who wants nothing more than to finish this “one last job” of whacking Driver and settling down in married bliss with his hot girlfriend. If reading that sounds awfully boring it gets no better seeing it and the time wasted telling the back stories of Cop and Killer slow Faster’s previously breathless pace to a tired crawl it never recovers from.
Gimme Some Hot Babes (Just Don’t Give Them Anything To Do): As you would expect, women in a movie like this aren’t going to be given much to do. At the very least they’ll say or do something to advance the story or just stand around looking fine. Neither one really happens here. Maggie Grace who played the object of Liam Neeson’s fury in Taken is Killer’s main squeeze and while she looks pretty cute as a blonde when she wakes up in the morning it’s a nothing role. Neither is Moon Bloodgood as the Cop’s estranged wife who has a nasty bad habit she rediscovers as he tries to worm his way back into her life. The real crime is wasting a natural resource like Carla Gugino (think Sin City as a point of reference) in a standard tough detective whose only real job is to do the legwork so Cop can stumble along and get the glory of bringing in Driver. Hopefully all three were well-compensated for showing up to play roles so thin and uninteresting they could have arrived at the studio in a taxi, told the driver to come back in a few hours and their work would have been over in one day.
Be What You Are But First Know What You Are: If this was trying to show American movie makers can still do an old-fashioned, action flick full of guns, bullets and muscle-bound bad asses suffering from testosterone poisoning, Faster started off good, down-shifted into a lethally low energy middle act and ran out of gas before it crossed the finish line. The “twist” of the film can be figured out within the first 30 minutes and besides a few stylish car chases there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done repeatedly done before and better. Nothing in this film couldn’t have been done just as well in an hour of network television. In fact, when I think of it, Faster reminds me of an old Miami Vice episode called “Viking Bikers From Hell” which also dealt with a similar murderous, single-minded and laser-focused hyperthyroid headcase on a relentless hunt for revenge.
Too many studios want to make Quentin Tarantino movies without Quentin Tarantino. It doesn’t work. This material hollers back to blaxploitation flicks and as an actor Johnson is on the same level as a Jim Brown or Fred Williamson. But B-movies like Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off and Hell Up In Harlem knew they were 90 minutes of cheap thrills never meant to play as feature films. With the demise of the second-run and drive-in movie theaters, there’s nowhere else for single-minded, but skimpily plotted flicks like Faster to go but straight to DVD or into the multiplexes. It probably wasn’t a real great idea to release a post-summer movie on Thanksgiving weekend when the latest Harry Potter is still dominating the box office.
In the unlikely event Daniel Radcliffe ever shares the screen with Dwayne Johnson, he can sneer, “Can you smell what Harry is cooking?”
I’m sorry for The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock that it’s looking more and more he’s fated to be another just Schwarzenegger wannabee who couldn’t make the jump from cheeseburgers to caviar. Apparently, it’s harder to make junk food movies that are guilty pleasures than it used to be.