The dilemma of vigilante flicks: Movies that openly embrace revenge—the Death Wish cycle, the Boondock Saints dyptych—are loathsome pieces of shit, offering witless fantasies for small-minded assholes. But movies that criticize such films can be just as pious, especially when the search for truth is as labored and humorless as it is in Faster.
It doesn’t start that way. In Faster’s opening minutes, bulky, stolid James Cullen (The Rock—er, sorry, Dwayne Johnson) is released from prison, runs an undisclosed length to a junkyard, picks up a sweet ride, drives to a busy office and shoots a telemarketer in the head. There’s more people on his assasination list—each responsible for his brother’s murder.
But no lean retro-noir, this. Instead, it gets improbably desultory. Standing in his way are two antagonists. One’s a junkie cop named “Cop” (W.R. Thornton of the Boxmasters fame) whose relevance doesn’t become apparent until quite late in; the other’s a swell-dressed dot-com billionaire-turned-assassin billed as “Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) whose importance never becomes apparent.
Despite having a name associated with speed, Faster repeatedly hits the brakes to dwell on the daily minutae of these superfluous characters, wasting several minutes on Cop’s dodgy relationship with his young son and Killer shooting bottles with his new bride while the National plays on the soundtrack. These sidetracks make Faster deeper than it should be even as they kill the momentum—a tidy summation of what’s wrong here.
Faster isn’t brain-dead. At first Cullen’s executions are “justified,” as when one of his targets turns out to be a sex criminal. But soon his targets lead to a moral gray zone—two have kids, one reformed in prison and became a radio preacher, the rest are washed-up losers who wasted their money and lives on drugs. By the end, Faster approaches the dead-end misery of a Jim Thompson gutter noir, but it’s a long, curvy road to get there, and not much fun when it should be. Here’s a film that promises a shoot-out in a packed revival tent, and pusses out.