Arnold Schwarzenegger's passing of the Californian governorship to Jerry Brown got me thinking about the last time he handed off his stewardship, and it has nothing to do with politics.
In 2003's The Rundown, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's first true outing as an action star beyond the dismal The Scorpion King, Johnson passes Arnold while entering a nightclub and Arnold tells him, "Have fun." The message was clear: The Rock was to be the new face of the pulp action genre Arnold had dominated for two decades. And unlike most of the blank, pretty faces Hollywood foists on us, he actually deserved it, too! With his imposing physicality backed up by legitimate screen presence, charisma to spare, no ego about self-depricatation, and sharper comic timing than most of Hollywood's actual "comedians" (see the cast of Grown Ups for further details), he immediately established himself as one of the best athletes-turned-actors of all time, The Rundown hinting at many great action flicks to come.
Unfortunately, The Rock's tenure as action king has been the biggest flop this side of the Wachowskis' as the new godfathers of sci-fi, marked by a litany of dumb kids movies, supporting roles in a couple comedies (Get Smart wasn't that bad, but it was Steve Carell's movie), a sports drama, and exactly one true action flick, 2005's Doom, which stunk like a sack of skunk scrotums. In seven years! I mean, within five years of Conan the Barbarian, Arnold had given us The Terminator, Commando, and Predator.
So when I saw the trailer for Faster my response could best be summarized as "fucking finally!" The Rock back where he belongs, wielding a gun and capping some motherfuckers. Which makes the movie's ultimate mediocrity all the harder to stomach. You know all the things I praised Johnson for — charisma, likability, comic timing? Faster doesn't utilize any of them. Johnson is forced to play the most incredibly grim, unsmiling, humorless protagonist of the year, a man who may be flesh and blood put nevertheless makes the Terminator look positively vibrant by comparison. I've seen dinner tables with more personality. Sure, he kicks some ass, but that's only half the equation, and the movie as a whole is a profoundly disappointing waste of his talents.
There is a threadbare plot here, a more or less standard-issue revenge yarn in the model perfected by Kill Bill some years back. Johnson plays an unnamed former getaway car driver who is released from prison, quickly handed a list of the people who betrayed him, murdered his brother, and left him for dead, and sets out to kill them one by one. Some are as bad as ever — especially one pedophile rapist whose death is easily the film's most satisfying — while others have reformed and made families and ordinary lives for themselves, bringing up some moral qualms in the driver about whether or not there's any nobility in revenge, but none of them put up particularly memorable fights and none of the confrontations are cinematically creative in the least.
A few other key characters, namely cops played by Billy Bob Thorton and Carla Gugino and a hitman played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, are all in pursuit of the driver. Which sounds well and good except, without giving away who, I will say that one of these characters has a lot of screentime sunk into them — I'd guess twenty minutes of the film's 98-minute runtime, going into their home life, psychological issues, relationships, wants, needs, and desires — and proceeds to contribute nothing to the film's outcome and resolution. I don't mean almost nothing, I mean absolutely fucking nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Could and probably should have been entirely deleted from the film without losing anything (I call this "pulling a most-of-the-cast-of-Lost," and not just because Shannon and Mr. Eko are in the movie).
So ultimately you have an oddly-structured and poorly-paced film that takes itself way too seriously, lacks any truly engaging action scenes, and gets overly sermonizing about the futility of revenge in its final act. Again, yes, Faster does have The Rock killing dudes to gory, R-rated results, so if that's all you want maybe the film will be up your alley. But it's all so grim and humorless that I can't imagine actually enjoying it. My recommendation? You want revenge, just watch Kill Bill again. You want The Rock, just watch The Rundown again.
Thankfully we won't have to wait half a decade to see The Rock kick ass again this time, with a supporting role in Fast Five due this April. Not that I'm counting on the fourth sequel to The Fast and the Furious to be particularly good, but at the very least I expect it won't be so fucking dour.
2 Stars out of 5