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MOVIE REVIEW

Faster

The Rock delivers a rush of cars and killing

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / November 24, 2010

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"Faster’’ is meat-and-potatoes action with a side of crazy. On one hand, it’s Dwayne Johnson’s butt-kicking apology for “Tooth Fairy,’’ “The Game Plan,’’ and other examples of family-friendly soft Rock. On the other hand, it’s a surprisingly compelling throwback to the drive-in fare of the 1970s, when macho existentialists drove muscle cars across the California desert just for the pleasure of killing each other.

The Rock plays “The Driver,’’ released from a 10-year prison stretch when the film opens and embarking on a methodical quest to avenge himself against the gang that murdered his bank-robbing brother (Matt Gerald).

The early-Arnold comparisons are unavoidable: Director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious’’) constantly films Johnson from below in an effort to make him look like an unstoppable death machine. What he looks like, actually, is an armed Easter Island statue.

Two other characters figure into the drama: Billy Bob Thornton as a cop — excuse me, “The Cop’’ — who, when he isn’t shooting up heroin in toilets, is investigating The Driver’s long trail of bodies, and “The Killer’’ (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a professional assassin hired to bring The Driver down.

The latter is both the movie’s most original creation and its silliest — a handsome yuppie software billionaire so bored with post-buyout life that he takes hit-man jobs for a dollar a pop. When he isn’t neurotically stalking his quarry, The Killer is fretting about emotional issues and proposing to his girlfriend (Maggie Grace of “Lost’’) via Bluetooth.

His ringtone is the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’’ You could call this movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Metrosexual.’’

“Faster’’ lives up to its title with an over-edited abundance of cars screeching backward, forward, and sideways, and when people in this movie die, they die brutally. But the script by Tony and Joe Gayton is just as interested in the ways guilt and vengeance can warp a soul, and it pulls a sharp performance from Thornton as a dirty little man trying to wash himself clean.

You’ll see the big twist coming from far off, but “Faster’’ offers compensatory B-flick stylishness on the way, as The Driver’s targets shift gradually from creeps to flawed dads to a testifying man of God (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and our giant slab of an antihero develops a warm and fuzzy side. How can you tell? His eyes water a little. Johnson is not a dumb man, and he knows a huggable Rock means only one thing. Dermabrasion.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/movienation.

FASTER Directed by: George Tillman Jr.

Written by: Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino,

Maggie Grace

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: R (strong violence, some drug use, language)

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