This is The Rock we know and love. The one who is shooting us in the head.

We have missed you, The Rock. We think back so fondly on the early action-movie days of your career. Against all hope, we loved you in the Walking Tall remake. We were surprised to discover that The Rundown is one of the best, liveliest action movies of the new millennium. But then you disappeared into crazy Disney cuddle-land for a string of regrettable pap. Race to Witch Mountain? What the fuck was that, The Rock? The Game Plan? Tooth Fairy? What you were cooking smelled bad, The Rock. Very bad.

We didn't want Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to become some kind of bullshit Will Smith clone. We do not want or need The Rock to reaffirm the goodness or innocence of children, or the importance of American families. We want The Rock to destroy an entire building by throwing himself at it. We want The Rock to get his ass kicked by a little wiry guy who knows Tarzan ninja-jitsu, but we want him to have the good grace to acknowledge the loss and keep on going. We want The Rock to beat down some sorry-ass motherfuckers, and hopefully to have a sense of humor about himself while he's doing it.

We half get our wish with Faster. Though The Rock is still too burned by his foray into family-friendly comedies to relax and laugh at himself, he brings enough teeth-gritted kickass to make up for three Game Plans. [THE ROCK SHIFTS BACK INTO ACTION IN FASTER.] As Driver (almost all the characters in Faster are given one-word descriptors that serve as names: Cop, Warden, Evangelist), The Rock is a juggernaut of pain. In the first scene, he gets out of jail. Then his thick, dense body starts running, full bore, away from the prison. It's a weird image, until you realize he's not running away from something, he's running toward something. For the first quarter of the movie, he just moves forward, with no hesitation and almost no dialogue. It's incorrect to call him a coiled spring; he's something more relentless and less sporadic than that, like a pneumatic drill. [THE ROCK IS FASTER... AND MORE FURIOUS.] All you need to know is right there in the soundtrack—a kind of pounding psychedelic R&B techno- exploitation riff—and The Rock's unstoppable stride. He is out for revenge, and he will get it, and we don't need to know the specifics.

Unfortunately, we learn all about the specifics. In excruciating detail. Billy Bob Thornton dons the 3,000th lame toupee of his cinematic career as Cop, a dirty-dealing police officer just days away from retirement. Thornton doesn't bring anything new to the role; it's his standard sleaze with a little smear of weariness that might not be acting. [BILLY BOB STALLS IN FASTER.] He's out to get Driver, and gradually, along with Cop and his partner Cicero (Carla Gugino), we learn everything there is to learn about Driver's backstory.

It's probably not a coincidence that the more we learn about Driver—he was in jail for a heist gone wrong thanks to a double cross is all, so why does the movie spend so goddamned long explaining all the hows and whys?—the slower and more hesitant The Rock gets. [ENDLESS BLATHER LIFTS FASTER'S LEAD FOOT.] Another supporting character (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hit man bored by life's lack of challenges, displays some interesting self-awareness—he refreshingly tweaks his own whiny prettiness—but he basically amounts to nothing. Moon Bloodgod's one pointless scene provides another piece of backstory that makes Driver even less interesting. [MOON BLOODGOD IS A SPEED BUMP IN FASTER.]

Faster begins as a hyperkinetic revenge western, and it ends all too predictably as a redemption narrative with a dumb, obvious third-act twist that has the temerity to believe that it's clever. [FASTER OUTRACED BY ITS OWN HACKNEYED SCRIPT.] This is a movie that's made for YouTube; there are several awesome action sequences and interesting establishing shots mixed in with acres of boring chitchat and forgettable, unnecessary character work. [FASTER MISTAKES THE DRIVER'S SEAT FOR THE PSYCHOTHERAPIST'S COUCH.] Ultimately, Faster will be remembered only as the movie that helped The Rock get his mojo back. And he's so good at this sort of B-movie action role that that's almost enough. But not quite. [FASTER RUNS OUT OF GAS.] recommended