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Was anyone out there still holding any hope for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s future as a movie star? Between third-rate action movies and lame family comedies parodying his image (how much can they possibly have paid him to star in The Tooth Fairy?), it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the charismatic but ill-managed former pro wrestler would be back in Vince McMahon land.

There may be hope for him yet. Faster is an action thriller dripping with allusions to 1970s and 1980s movies, and as you watch Johnson stomp through his role as a implacably vengeful ex-con, you can’t help but think of The Terminator, the movie that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger from a cartoon into an action star.

The character is known only as “The Driver,” referencing his function in the robbery that landed him in a Bakersfield prison for 10 years. The reference to Walter Hill’s gritty classic The Driver is intentional: Before long we also meet The Cop, a heroin-shooting wreck with 10 days before retirement, played by Billy Bob Thornton with the kind of relish Harvey Keitel used to invest in this kind of role, and The Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), an existentially troubled assassin.

In all honesty, Faster is kind of a mess, never quite sure how seriously it wants to be taken. Or maybe director George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor) is just trying to throw us off base with jokes where we least expect them. (Noting that his murder investigation has thus far claimed a telemarketer and a sex offender, The Cop wonders, “What’s next, a lawyer?”) I will say that the ending took me by surprise, so maybe he succeeded. Despite some mawkish lapses into sympathy-building back stories, Tillman generally maintains a gritty atmosphere, aided by a terrific score. It should have been released in the summertime: It’s perfect drive-in fare.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Faster

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