Bigger, stronger, Faster

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Faster

By Matt Brunson

FASTER

**1/2

DIRECTED BY George Tillman Jr.

STARS Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton

Like most of our macho movie he-men, Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) makes up in low-simmering charm what he lacks in genuine acting chops. At his best gently mocking his own tough-guy image (Be Cool, Get Smart) and at his worst pandering to family audiences (The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy), Johnson has lately gotten away from the straight-ticket action flicks that kick-started his screen career after years in the wrestling arena. Faster marks his return to hardcore action fare, with one significant difference: It's smarter, deeper and all around better than the mediocre movies that were initially his bread and butter. If some rickety plot mechanics prevent it from fully making the grade, it still registers as a worthy try.

The basic outline sounds simple enough, as a taciturn man billed as "Driver" (Johnson) is released from prison and begins bumping off those responsible for his incarceration as well as the death of a loved one. As he carries out his mission, he's pursued on one side by "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton) and on the other by "Killer" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who could pass for Jake Gyllenhaal's British cousin). But Faster isn't merely interested in upping the body count. Driver spends a lot of time thoughtfully listening to a religious radio program, a plot device far more integrated and effective here than in the recent Stone. Cop is a hardcore drug user who's treated with disdain by everyone from his skilled partner (Carla Gugino) on the job to his estranged wife (Moon Bloodgood) living separately with their son (the presence of this portly kid inevitably stirs memories of Thornton's Bad Santa). And Killer is a wealthy computer genius who became a hit man out of sheer boredom with his life, only finding satisfaction with a girlfriend (Maggie Grace) whose idea of foreplay is firing off a few rounds in the backyard.

An inexplicable close-up of a photograph two-thirds through the picture blows any chance at keeping the twist ending under wraps, and this unfortunate error somewhat tempers the mounting tension. But despite this miscue and a few lapses into illogicality, Faster largely succeeds as an efficient actioner.

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