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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Sorry, son. It's a starring role in the Tooth Fairy for you.

You know how people have guilty-pleasure songs, or guilty pleasure movies? I have a guilty pleasure actor – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Part of it stems from me being a wrestling fan when I was younger but mostly I just find him an incredibly appealing screen presence. He’s not quite in the Patrick Swayze guilty-pleasure actor pantheon, but he’s getting there.

Wherein lies the appeal? In Johnson, you have a gregarious, cocky presence who owns the screen when given the chance to explore that side of him. (See The Other Guys, Get Smart, Welcome to the Jungle, Be Cool, Saturday Night Live). If you don’t allow that side to come out, you’re playing to his weaknesses – dramatic heft, introspection and so on. What you really need for a role like that is someone with far greater dramatic chops than muscles.

As such, in casting the sedimentary action star as a hard man on a mission who rarely speaks and has no sense of humour, the film completely wastes Dwayne Johnson. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

I understand what the thinking is here. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, among others, are in the running to become the next big breakout action star. But in casting these men as the 21st century’s Charles Bronson, producers fail to recognize that what we actually want is a 21st century Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis, men who achieved their missions with a sense of humour, for better or worse.

But this film buries Dwayne Johnson – resorting to a series of half-assed action beats sadly lacking in originality, coolness or emotional investment. I like a good revenge thriller as much as the next guy, but you’ve got to at least do something with it – and not just forget to give your characters names.

Johnson stars as Driver, an ex-con out on a mission to avenge the death of his brother by hunting down his killers. He is in turn chased down by two men – a Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and a Cop (Billy Bob Thornton).

The movie is thoroughly entertaining – for the opening five minutes – partly because of some cool music and partly because watching the credits is like an eyebrow-raising workout. Deb from Dexter is in this? Mr. Eko from Lost is in this? Tom Berenger is in this? Shannon from Lost is in this?

After that, though, it descends into action movie tripe with only brief moments to raise us out of the gloom and doom. Irredeemable characters hurt and kill each other but no one is worth caring about, so accordingly, I didn’t.

Even more egregiously, the action - the movie’s main selling point - is almost non-existent. Executions are quick and blood-minimal, fight scenes are over quickly when they begin at all and the movie’s one memorable excuse for a car-chase feels like it’s just The Rock driving around the block with unnecessary reliance on brake turns. If we shouldn’t see an action movie for the action, why the hell should we go and see it?

The lack of action is even more baffling when we take into account the alarming amount of time spent on the ‘Killer’ character, played by Jackson-Cohen. A character with enormous unfulfilled potential, I spent most of the film wishing someone had made an entirely different movie about this character because he was completely useless in this one. Played charismatically and with an interesting back-story, he could have made an extremely effective anti-hero, rather than a series of pointless diversions in Faster.

As far as the acting goes, the movie’s star is not the only cast member to suffer from charisma burial. Carla Gugino, a gorgeous and watchable actress when not doing terrible B-movies, is forced to handle some truly abominable dialogue. Here’s my favourite:

Billy Bob Thornton: ‘I’ve got a hunch.’
Carla Gugino: ‘So did Quasimodo, look where it got him.’

I don’t know what the opposite of scenery chewing is, but Gugino does a lot of it here. Thornton does his usual hangdog, down-on-his-luck shtick as a cop who we are reminded several times, only has two weeks to go before retirement. Maggie Grace makes the fastest transition ever from lingerie-clad hottie one moment to nagging housewife the next, Berenger is in the film for roughly thirty seconds, and so on.

The one cast member to make an impression is Triple-A, Mr. Eko himself, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Playing an evangelist with ties to our main character, his scenes with Johnson briefly lift the film out of the mire it has been stuck in for 90% of the film. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I enjoyed the melodrama of it and the quiet chemistry between the two men, something sadly lacking everywhere else.

The best part of the film is the music and that really should be no surprise considering the film is scored by Clint Mansell, the same man responsible for the wonderful soundtrack to Black Swan. He’s scored some bad movies in his time but the music here is soulful and atmospheric and far better than the script deserves.

But even with those two elements, there’s really nothing here for anyone. If you want a half decent revenge thriller, seek out Edge of Darkness, Taken or The Brave One. They may not be perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot better than this.

How dare they waste Dwayne Johnson. 4/20

The King’s Speech   17/20
The Fighter               15/20
Black Swan               12/20
The Green Hornet    7/20
Faster                          4/20

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