We're in archetype territory with George Tillman, Jr.'s Faster, a film with one of the least descriptive or comprehensible titles in recent memories, in terms of how it actually relates to the movie.
Archetype? The three central characters in the film are identified onscreen by their titles: "Driver" for Dwayne Johnson, the ostensible hero; "Killer" for Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a hitman recruited to stop him; and "Cop" for Billy Bob Thornton, the near-retirement police detective who's on his trail.
In essence, Faster is Kill Bill without the grander artistic pretensions of Quentin Tarantino, and also without the vision. This is as straight-ahead a revenge film as you're likely to see -- so much so that the semi-artsy subplots involving Killer and Cop distract from the rest of it. More about them in a minute.
Johnson plays Driver, who gets out of prison and literally runs miles back to civilization, where he finds a car hidden for him in a junkyard -- an early '70s Chevelle muscle car. There is a name and an address on the dashboard. And, good news -- there's a handgun hidden under the front seat.
Which makes it easier to drive to that address, walk into the office and calmly find the one guy Driver is looking for -- and then plug him between the eyes and walk out.
And he's off. As we see in flashbacks, Driver, who's just out of prison after 10 years, has a score to settle. He went to prison for his part in a bank robbery (he was -- surprise -- the driver), but not before his own robbery crew was ripped off by another, meaner crew, which slit Driver's brother's throat right in front of him. Then Driver was shot in the head and left for dead.
So he's now on a killing spree, tracking down the guys who killed his brother. Law enforcement seems to be a nonissue; Driver is so far ahead of the cops that they don't really factor in -- except for Cop, whose uncanny anticipatory instincts about Driver's whereabouts aren't all that hard to figure out.
Meanwhile, there's that Killer lurking about, also trying to blast Driver. He's a Brit, first seen going through a drastic set of what looks like a blend of gymnastics and break-dancing. In fact, as he tells girlfriend Maggie Grace, it's a set of yoga moves so extreme that he's one of the only people in the world who can do them successfully. At which point he delivers one of the most unintentionally funny lines in recent memory: "I've won. I've beaten yoga." Wait -- what about the Olympics?
Tillman, director of films as diverse as Soul Food, Men of Honor and Notorious, here seems to want to make a stylistic statement, with his denatured colors, no-nonsense action (how arty can you get with a bullet to the brain?) and minimalist dialogue (by Joe and Tony Gayton). Yet he also wants to flesh out the characters, to give each of the three male protagonists enough backstory that they aren't merely pawns or, gulp, archetypes.
So Cop has a heroin habit, a needy wife (Moon Bloodgood) and a chubby loser kid. He's also got another cop (Carla Gugino), a persnickety detective who's been assigned to the Driver spree and doesn't appreciate Cop stepping on her toes. And Killer has a girlfriend he decides to marry; he also brings a commitment to perfection in his work that extends to completing the assignment to kill Driver, even after the hit is called off.
That kind of layering is meant to add dimension. Instead, it's like adding the wrong flavors to a familiar recipe. Ultimately it only distracts from the relatively straightforward plot.
Only Dwayne Johnson seems to emerge unscathed here. He's a force of nature, back from the provinces of family comedies to play a genuine badass. He scowls, he sneers, he wastes people -- and he barely blinks in the process.
Faster is an empty-calorie action movie trying to disguise itself as gourmet genre dining. Not that those empty calories can't be tasty -- they're just so damned forgettable.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine