Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became a World Wrestling Entertainment legend not because of his extraordinary physique or his technical proficiency — he made himself memorable at the mike, tearing his opponents down to size with colorful trash talk and a challenging glare, punctuated by his cocked “people’s eyebrow.”
In “Faster,” the ludicrous new thriller from “Notorious” director George Tillman Jr., Johnson’s verbal prowess is not the only resource wasted — Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino and common sense are collateral victims of brothers Tony and Joe Gayton’s crude story — but its absence may be the movie’s most vexing miscalculation.
Johnson, as WWE fans quickly learned, has charisma to spare. In person, he is sharp-witted, funny and effortlessly engaging. Those qualities translate easily to the screen, but “Faster” never gives him a chance.
Here, he is the strong, silent type — too silent, it turns out. His job is to look mean, shoot first and ask questions never. In the unlikely event he was paid by the word, the producers should have enough cash left over to enjoy a bountiful holiday season.
Nobody in the violent world of “Faster” is allowed to crack a smile, and if they are not having any fun, imagine how we feel. Johnson plays Driver — his occupation, not his name — who is an ex-con sworn to avenge the murder of his brother.
Thornton plays Cop, the heroin-addicted detective assigned to stop Driver before he deposits a bullet in the skull of every man who has wronged him.
There is a subplot involving an Internet startup mogul turned insecure hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who hunts Driver first for pay and later to preserve his professional integrity. And there is a half-hearted attempt to humanize Johnson’s anti-hero with a last-
second spiritual turn.
Why? To lend the story the illusion of depth, I guess, but “Faster” — a slapdash pastiche of poorly shot shootouts and underworld seediness — creates a universe even God would have trouble saving.
Most intriguing among the participants is Thornton, not simply because he is given the most scenery to chew, but because Cop’s penchant for self-destruction seems perilously at odds with his paternal instincts and underlying moral code. The latter vanishes in a flash — I will not tell you how, and I still do not know why — but when he is on screen, it is easy to imagine him in a better movie.
One and a half stars
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Maggie Grace, Carla Gugino
Written by Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes