Here at the end of Award Season there seems to be a void. Everything from the Producers Guild to the Oscars reward the best and the brightest, but what about the trashy and the tarnished? For every “King’s Speech” there are hundreds of pictures designed to do little more than take the hard earned cash of the proletariat. Instead of Best Picture how about an Award show to celebrate the best Sci-Fi Vampire movie, or Best Gratuitous-Testosterone-Fueled-Machine-Gun-Toting Action Flick? If there were such a thing then Patrick Lussier’s new film, “Drive Angry 3-D” would win for best Car-Chase-Satanic-Cult movie for sure.
The biggest asset for this self consciously ridiculous action farce is the Nicholas Cage brand of bizarre acting that he exudes onto each scene with his typical gusto. This time around he plays John Milton, a former criminal who has broken out of Hades in order to save his granddaughter from a Satanic Cult hell bent on bringing the Netherworld to Earth with the little baby’s blood. With a stoic sneer Cage wields his shotgun mowing down all of the cultist where ever he finds them, blowing off hands, destroying kneecaps, and generally laying waste to anyone that gets in his way. There is little in the way of character development, or any sort of depth, but why would there be?
From Cage’s character’s name it is pretty obvious that screen writers Lussier & Todd Farmer have little interest in subtlety, and they don’t waste any time kicking the film into high gear. Opening the film with an over the top chase sequence only to be followed by a brutal gun fight definitely sets the tone for the rest of the picture. There is little screen time devoted to anything other than gun play or auto acrobatics, and the time that isn’t pulses with jiggling females, often half clothed or less. If nothing else Lussier knows his audience.
Along those lines follows the casting of Amber Heard as Piper. After taking a shine to Piper’s car Milton hitches a ride with her only to defend the self possessed little vixen against an abusive boyfriend. Even though Piper is written as a typical male fantasy – she is a gun shooting, foul mouthed waitress who wears tight jeans and drives a Charger – Lussier foregoes the usual romance angle between the two favoring a slightly more interesting father/daughter dynamic. It never feels forced, and is so rarely referenced it becomes the backdrop for their relationship without having to be overt. That could be a nice way of saying that the director was paying more attention to fight choreography than the acting, but I give Lussier the benefit of the doubt.
Though that “Hands Off” may have worked out well when it came to the film’s two villains. The more unfettered of the two is The Accountant, playfully portrayed by William Fichtner. As some sort of bail bondsman for Hell The Accountant is after the escaped prisoner, Milton. Fichtner plays The Accountant like an affluent salesman who is quick to result to some nonchalant violence anytime someone doesn’t immediately go for his pitch. At the beginning, after tracking Milton to Piper’s house and only finding the boyfriend, he makes creative use of a baseball bat. The quirky way in which he tortures the man makes him so lovably vicious without being malicious. He has a job to do, he will get it done, and maiming a redneck seems like it is just part of a hard day’s work.
Almost as over the top is Billy Burke as the leader of the Satanist cult, Jonah King. Even his name is a little too close to “Jo-King” to be taking seriously. In a flashback where Milton recalls seeing his granddaughter abducted and his daughter’s throat slit by King, Burke makes a lavish show of licking the blood from his fingers. This is endemic of the goofy bad guy who dresses in blousy shirt, leather pants, and carries around a cane with a human femur at the end.
While these actors make this silly caricatures come to life, the script is fairly outlandish in the first place. Bursting at the seams with cliché car crashes, and gun fights the film is a mash up of two types of ‘70’s grindhouse pictures. It has the road chase movie hallmarks seen in “Vanishing Point” or “Crazy Larry, Dirty Mary,” mixed up with the Satanism exploitation films of the 1970’s, all with the updated technology of the present day. The result is referential without ever feeling dated.
The fun in “Drive Angry” could have been squandered, there is little originality in the film, but Lussier keeps the film rolling at a Muscle Car’s pace rolling past any deficiencies on to the next car chase, the next gun fight, the next Satanic orgy. Clearly the film makers were having fun because there is no moment in the film that takes itself seriously. Even the moment when Milton recounts his time in Hell watching all the horrors King visited on his daughter is done with Cage’s face half covered in gruesome bruises, starring into a barrel fire. It is so melodramatic it could only be intentionally comedic.
Lussier’s other talent in the film is dealing with the 3-D aspect. Having been on the cusp of the wave with 2009’s “My Bloody Valentine” Lussier is practically a veteran of the gimmick, and in this picture gets to shoot in native 3-D instead of sending the final film through the abysmal conversion process that has made many a bad movie worse in the last couple years. Shooting in the format adds something to the film – call it depth – that can’t be achieved in the conversion process, and thus by the end of “Drive Angry” there are few places that the 3-D stands out like a sore thumb, rather becoming an integral part of the image.
In the end “Drive Angry” is a surprisingly solid and fun little diversion. It is obvious that the all parties involved set out to achieve the goal of making a purely fun little movie with no intentions of pushing the envelope. If a film delivers exactly what it is attempting is that a more successful picture than one that seeks to push boundaries and fails? I guess it would depend on the boundaries; some films should be commended just for tackling certain subject no matter the result, but if ridiculous little movie with no other aim than to entertain does just that maybe it deserves its props as well.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)