Dwayne Johnson gets back in touch with his mean side in Faster, a twisting, hard-edged revenge flick that marks the former WWE brawler’s long-awaited return to R-rated action fare after a five-year foray into family-friendly cinema. That’s right -- the kid gloves are off, and the knuckles underneath are still capable of shattering jaws and flattening noses. It’s good to see Johnson back in form, and with a supporting cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, and not one but two Lost veterans, Faster hits its pulpy stride early on and barely pauses to reload once the bullets start to fly. Ten years ago, Driver (Johnson) was part of a bank heist gone horribly awry. In the chaos of the botched robbery, his brother wound up dead. Now Driver is a free man, and he's determined to punish the men who killed his sibling. Settling the score won't be easy, though, because despite being just a few days shy of retirement, a veteran cop (Billy Bob Thornton) isn't about to let a massacre take place on his watch, and a hotshot hitman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has Driver locked in his sights. Unfortunately for Driver, the closer he gets to his targets, the more he puts himself at risk. Later, just as he starts to think he's gotten everyone on his list, he discovers that one name seems to be missing. Faster isn’t the kind of movie that aims to reinvent the revenge subgenre, but that isn’t to say that director George Tillman Jr. and sibling writers Tony and Joe Gayton aren’t looking to have a little fun within the familiar framework. By introducing the central figures of Faster by their occupations rather than names (Driver, Cop, Killer), the Gayton brothers clue us in early on that they already know the rules of the game, and use that as a means of toying with our preconceptions about the characters. Meanwhile, Tillman lays on the style extra thick, striking a delicate balance between efficiency and flamboyance that helps to carry the restless energy of the opening scenes into the main plot. It’s here that the influence of Italian crime cinema on Faster first becomes apparent (thanks in large part to the effective use of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ “Goodbye My Friend” -- the main theme from Enzo G. Castellari’s exciting 1974 actioner Street Law), though observant cinema junkies are sure to have a blast picking out the many other movie references scattered throughout. Later, as the writers throw us some bloody pieces of the puzzle, the motivations for Driver’s revenge spree come into sharp focus, providing the Gayton brothers with the opportunity to instill their characters with some revealing quirks while simultaneously raising the stakes. These are the scenes in which Thornton shines brightest, his interactions with his portly, nonathletic son providing the perfect seasoning to a story that’s refreshingly grave in an era when earnest and hip have become mutually exclusive. But the filmmakers are careful not to hold any one beat for longer than absolutely necessary, despite touching on such heavy themes as addiction, the sins of the father, and the tragic, cyclical nature of revenge. It seems like at some point in their careers, every action star gets the urge to prove that they can do more than snap someone's neck between their thighs while sliding down a staircase firing dueling Berettas. You needn’t be a wrestling fan to recognize that Dwayne Johnson has all the charisma of a classic action icon, but while comedy comes naturally to the laid-back star with the broad smile, he’s still at his best when cast as a hulking force of nature -- and that’s precisely what he is in Faster. As movie fans, it can be easy to get so swept up in the search for something new and original that we overlook the efforts that tweak a formula just enough to keep it interesting. Movies like Faster aren’t as concerned with starting new cinematic trends as they are with toying with tradition. It’s that fact that makes the film both highly watchable and an easy recommendation for action fans.