An ex-con (Dwayne Johnson) sets out to avenge his brother's death after they were double-crossed during a heist years ago. During his campaign, however, he's tracked by a veteran cop and an egocentric hit man.

Revenge flick shoots nothing but blanks.

In Faster, a vicious revenge flick riddled with unfulfilled ambitions, Dwayne Johnson shelves his recent family-friendly image (Race to Witch Mountain, Tooth Fairy) to portray a monomaniacal update of Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name. Technically, the former wrestling star plays a character named Driver – for his primary skill, with an allusion to his one track mind – but he’s meant to be someone so consumed by his need for revenge that after a ten-year stint in a Californian Supermax prison he drives straight to his first execution, putting a bullet in the head of a telemarketing clerk. (Well, it’s either revenge or one too many call centre enquiries at dinner time.)

With his neck disappearing into his muscled shoulders and a thousand yard stare affixed to his face, Johnson is supposed to be an avenging angel – a sinner so beyond redemption he’s come full circle. But grimace as he might, with the odd grunt and a directness of physical movement added in, Johnson can’t do much of anything with the character. Driver has a hit list, a crew of criminals who murdered his brother in front of him after they ripped off the duo’s bank heist, and as he works his way down it he starts to shake and issue solemn regrets. This, I believe, is an attempt at acting, but it’s so superficially contained and melodramatic that it comes off like a clip from his former day job as wrestling superstar The Rock.

What’s odd is that Johnson is a likeable screen personality. He has large, liquid eyes and a ready sense of humour, but Faster is such a pretentious piece of pulp that any welcome B-movie bluntness is overwhelmed by the dreary opportunism of Tony and Joe Gayton’s screenplay; Don Siegel never would have stood for this. Other archetypes surround Driver, including Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a former tech guru whose need for achievement has taken him into contract killing. His main purpose, you suspect, is to alleviate Driver’s stripped down aesthetic. Killer has shelves of gleaming gunmetal grey weapons, sports cars and a barely dressed girlfriend (Maggie Grace), who encourages his activities with martial gusto until they flippantly wed and she suddenly decides he must quit.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a screw-up police officer – junky, bad dad, ill-fitting suits – who draws the case of identifying and stopping Driver, alongside Carla Gugino’s Detective Cicero, whose performance is equitable given the part is barely conceived. There are numerous machinations, with a narrative that unravels the past alongside the present, but none of it is greatly entertaining because these characters aren’t people, they’re pieces. Killer could finish Driver off a dozen times, but you know nothing will happen because they must meet at the finale with one to influence the other.

With features such as Notorious and Men of Honor, director George Tillman Jr. has previously been an honest, reliable filmmaker. But this film he takes as an opportunity, and renders it as a failure. His camera examines every angle of Johnson’s monolith face and frame, but there is no performance, while the technical forays meant to suggest a disorientation of the senses or the acquisition of wisdom are so ritualistic (the Scott brothers were individually doing it 15 years ago) that it’s purely formulaic. The odd collaborator, such as Darren Aronofsky’s preferred composer Clint Mansell, do serviceable work, but Faster is so intent on taking the recent trend of media-saturated, discombobulated American trash (think the Crank series) and giving it a righteous backbone that few good impressions are left by a film both predictable and self-important. 'I can’t feel a thing," whispers one character Driver shoots in his final moments. He’s not the only one.

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1 hour 38 min
In Cinemas 03 February 2011,