Review: Nicolas Cage's 'Drive Angry 3D' Drives to Ridiculous Fun
by Jeremy Kirk
March 4, 2011
"Like a bat out of Hell" is an appropriate way to describe how Drive Angry 3D, the latest bit of insanity from My Bloody Valentine director/editor Patrick Lussier, plays. It's loud. It's vicious. It knows precisely its place in the world of cinema, and for that alone, it becomes a recommendable piece of trashy and violent film. With Nicolas Cage at the wheel, Drive Angry delivers its entertainment with a Grindhouse mentality, a film that could just as easily have been directed by the likes of Jack Hill or Richard C. Sarafian had it found release in the 70s instead of today.
Cage plays Milton, a man who has recently busted his way out of the prison that is Hell. His daughter and her husband have been killed and their baby taken by a cult of Satanists. With the aid of Piper, a tough-as-nails waitress played by Amber Heard, Milton heads for the cult. However, Hell is none too keen they have lost a soul, and a demon known as The Accountant, played by William Fichtner, is sent to bring Milton back to the depths.
There's always a reluctance to use the phrase "check your brain at the door and just have a good time" when talking about any kind of film. Whether it has its tongue pushing against its cheek so hard it looks like it's going to break through, as is the case with Drive Angry, or not, there's the inescapable notion that a film should never be viewed as mindless entertainment. There's a shotgun-wielding-Nicolas Cage that may have a few words to say to anyone who believes that.
Sure, there's a mindless sensibility to Drive Angry. A more dramatic, more nuanced depiction of a man escaping the afterlife to rescue his granddaughter from a cult could have been made. Lussier and screenwriter Todd Farmer aren't interested in such nuances, and that's perfectly fine. Drive Angry is not a film for character reflection or misplaced sentimentalities. It's the kind of film where people's hands, legs, and heads get blown off without the slightest bit of decorum. Milton is angry. You might have guessed that from the title, and he's not a knight riding in on a white horse. He's the classic, Grindhouse-style anti-hero who has no interests in handling situations with words, an enigmatic force of violence who has one goal and literally damn anyone who gets in his way.
Once that violence erupts, Lussier handles it with a keen eye. There are no moments of ridiculous shaky cam or extreme closeups that hinder the view. If anything does that, it's the copious amounts of computer generated imagery that line just about every wall of Drive Angry. This is a film of muscle cars, bullets, and a hard pavement, the kind of action movie that derives a sense of metal striking metal.
Unfortunately, that sense completely dissipates every time CG gets thrown in. It brings the 70s mentality of the film to the modern age and reiterates the studio commercialization of the "so bad it's good" way of thinking. Granted, the few moments we see Hell require a bit of the CG environment building. That's excusable, but Lussier seems to use CG as a crutch, a way of piling on more bodies, blood, and explosions to just about every action scene. After a while, it gets distracting.
Also a little distracting is Cage himself, but it's not the kind of distraction you might expect from the man. We know what Nicolas Cage is capable of. We've seen him go insane on film ample amounts of times, the bug-eyed, pierced screaming, out-of-his-mind Cage. That's not found in Drive Angry. Instead, he takes the somber route choosing instead to be a Spaghetti Western-style anti-hero. Sure, this works for the character that has been written, but Cage seems almost comatose for much of Drive Angry. There doesn't feel like there is any level of fun coming from the actor, and that is certainly something every other aspect of Drive Angry is able to convey.
It definitely comes from Heard and Fichtner, who both deliver wildly dynamic performances. Heard gives her strong character the firmness it requires. Sure there are moments where Milton saves Piper's life from immediate threats, but that road goes both ways at alternating times in the film. Heard is having fun with Piper's character, but she's also solidifying a strong-willed female character in the middle of a very ballsy action movie.
Fichtner is also having fun as The Accountant - that's an understatement. Fichtner is having a blast with the character, delivering every line with a determined accuracy and playing off the villainous dynamism with ample force. The Accountant isn't exactly a multi-dimensional character. Like Milton, he has one goal when Drive Angry gets started, to bring Milton back to Hell, but between Farmer and Lussier's screenplay and Fichtner's performance, the character is allowed to evolve, to actually have an arc of his own that may not be the most succinctly written element of the film but certainly makes sense when all is said and done.
Between the CG and Cage's robotic approach to the lead character, Drive Angry might not pierce quite as effectively as it could have otherwise, but there's no denying it's an exciting movie that delivers precisely what you might expect given its premise. Once again Lussier throws it at you, quite literally in some of the more gimmicky, 3D moments of the film. That, too, comes off a bit chintzy, but that bat out of Hell still has a way of bringing the excitement with it. Drive Angry wears its sensibilities like a badge of honor, a bloody, gut-soaked, kinetic badge of honor that has been pinned right to the skin.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10