By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

Having rolled quite a distance away from The Rock, his earlier moniker, Dwayne Johnson (above) returns to the kind of macho role that recalls the wrestling career that got him started on the movie screen.

1c2bd Movie Review:  <em> Faster </em>But Faster is a step backward for him in the acting department.  It’s the kind of violence-celebrating, R-rated action thriller that makes everybody in it look bad, whether they deserve to or not.

Johnson’s string of starring roles in comedic and dramatic family films (The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy, Return to Witch Mountain, Planet 51) and supporting roles in mainstream comedies (Get Smart, The Other Guys) over the last four years hasn’t exactly invited Oscar votes, but at least the roles have allowed Johnson to broaden his screen persona and become an actor instead of a poser or a prop.

In Faster, which is as phony as the phoniest of professional wrestling matches, the ex-Rock does a lot more driving than acting.

Johnson stars as the musclebound, extravagantly tattooed, intense and taciturn Driver, an ex-con who has been released after ten years in prison intent on avenging the murder of his brother and the double-cross that led to it during the bungled bank robbery that got him arrested.

As he relentlessly tracks down the men responsible for his brother’s death, crossing off their names on his to-do list as he kills them, two other men pursue him.  One is a cop, identified only as Cop, played by Billy Bob Thornton, a veteran ten days from retirement; the other is a bored British billionaire who kills time by killing people as an assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).  Identified only as Killer, he has a contract to rub Driver out.

Hey, with characters this deep and archetypal, who needs proper names?

Director George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor, Notorious, Soul Food) tries to live up to the film’s title by moving things along at a brisk clip, but doesn’t worry about motivation, continuity, or internal logic, which perhaps explains the thoroughly preposterous climax in which the film merely stops rather than ends on the heels of a narrative twist so arbitrary as to be insulting.  Nothing that anybody does at this or any other time makes any kind of real or unreal sense.

Of course, perhaps in Tillman’s defense, he’s working from a sloppy, nonsensical script by screenwriting brothers Tony and Joe Gayton that takes itself far too seriously and trips over its own philosophical pretensions, leaving not just potholes but plot holes you could, well, drive a car through.

But Tillman also sets the new Hollywood record for the most lingering closeups of weapons being pointed threateningly at someone’s noggin — and that he can’t blame the screenwriters for.

Johnson wrestles his character to a minimal-dialogue draw, but he’s one part of a three-part character study featuring a trio of underwritten characters.  It’s a three-dimensional movie, all right: each of the three principals has one dimension, and none of them is worth caring, wondering, or thinking about.

We do get to witness a few nifty hairpin turns in that black Chevy Chevelle, though.  (Yawn.)

So we’ll drive 1½ stars out of 4 for a ridiculous, rubber-burning vendetta actioner that’s not actually slow, but that feels dispiritingly long.  Which is why what we spend our time rooting for is for Faster to go faster.

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