In theory Faster is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s return to the violent, gritty, action movies he should have been doing all along. Faster is violent and gritty but, when it comes to action, there’s just not a lot of it.

Part of the problem is Johnson’s character, a single-minded killer who when released for prison, immediately sets out to murder a list of people. The film calls him Driver, but if he has a name, we never know it. Driver stalks through the film hunting victims, victims who never really put up much of a fight, and sort of just stand there while he walks in the front door and shoots them in the head. There isn’t a lot of excitement here, unless you count brains splattered all over the wall. Faster isn’t so much an action movie, rather it’s more of a character study, about a lead character without much of a personality.

We never really know much about Driver other than he’s utterly focused on revenge. Throughout the film he struggles to avoid any distraction, and even though things get more complicated around him, he simply lowers his head and fights to ignore everything until the people he’s after, for reasons which eventually become apparently, are utterly dead.

Driver’s not much of a character but Johnson is so good to glaring holes in the screen and stalking through hallways and streets with animal purpose that it nearly doesn’t matter. Maybe there’s a good short film in here somewhere in which The Rock tries to set his enemies on fire by simply staring at them. I’d pay to see that. Johnson’s great, with whatever he’s given, and the movie really tries hard. It’s stylish and well shot. But it’s not a short film and watching a guy walk around for hours looking isn’t much of a story. It wants to be Kill Bill but doesn’t have enough material to be Kill Bill, and so much of the movie’s running time is occupied with what can only be described as filler.

While we learn little about Driver we learn everything there is to know about the people chasing him, except for why we should care about any of these pursuers at all. There’s Billy Bob Thornton as a junkie cop and, while his story seems like a waste of time, and while we definitely didn’t need to see him hanging out with his son, at least it eventually leads somewhere. I’m at a loss however to explain the presence of Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a character referred to only as “Killer”. He’s a hitman hired to hunt down Driver, and the movie wastes volumes of film on his personal life, developing a character who serves no purpose in the story.

So with a story that doesn’t work and a bunch of characters we either don’t get to know well or don’t really care about, all that’s left to carry Faster is gritty violence. It’s violent and graphic in places, with brains blasting out of heads and splattering on the walls. Yet while it seems to want to be gritty, this is a movie filled with graphic violence but contains a scene in a strip club where none of the strippers ever actually seem to be naked. It doesn’t really seem all that interested earning it’s R-rating. I guess we’re supposed to be ok with watching a bullet shoot through a man’s head, as long as nobody sees a nipple.

Faster tries hard, and at this point in his career I’m just thankful The Rock is in something that doesn’t require him to babysit someone’s kid, but there’s not much here for Johnson to work with. Though he’s proven an incredibly talented action star, the movie requires little from him in the way of action and doesn’t offer enough in the way of character to compensate for it. It’s not particularly good, but at least The Rock isn’t wearing a tutu.

Josh Tyler