Damon: To start, I should say I was pleasantly surprised with Drive Angry. I mean I liked Patrick Lussier’s last film My Bloody Valentine (also written by Todd Farmer), and they seem to have found their groove, but – though the film is agressively adolescent in its thinking, I was with the film the whole time, and had a good deal of fun with it. You?
Joshua: Full disclosure: I got to the premiere a bit early, so I killed a little time and a couple beers in the theater’s bar before moseying into the film. But yeah, color me surprised too. The trailer had me expecting a spectacular mess at best, but the film pretty effortlessly strung me along for the ride. More surprisingly, now that I look back on Drive Angry in the sobering light of a different day, it hasn’t left a bad after-taste in my mouth. The film comes close to grabbing that genre mini-classic brass ring a few times, but never quite gets there. But all-in-all I’d say this about the film: it works. And adolescent is an apt way to describe its approach.
Damon: Nicolas Cage plays John Milton, a mysterious figure who is on a quest that becomes clearer as the film goes on. He’s after Satanist cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke, channeling a little Jim Morrison while looking a bit like Captain Beefheart) who killed his daughter. While at a diner he meets Piper (Amber Heard), who he sees acting nice to a kid, so he hitches a ride with her. Then he meets her current asshole boyfriend (Todd Farmer, naked again), and is able to get her to come along with him. After Milton is “The Accountant (William Fichtner), who has supernatural powers. King is planning on sacrificing a baby on the full moon, and so there’s a ticking clock, and cultists to catch up with. And the narrative driving force, and the intersection of these groups leads to all of the action set pieces, of which there are many, and most well staged – though I thought the 3-D was the most fun in the opening sequence where a hand gets blown off and sent at the audience.
Joshua: I think it is relevant in establishing the tone of this film to note that Milton’s daughter bit off Jonah King’s dick; not graphically shown, but explicitly implied in an early flashback. While Bill Murray may have labeled William Atherton “dickless” in Ghostbusters, it takes a special sort of film to give the hero a truly dickless foil. And now that you’ve summoned Capt. Beefheart’s ghost to mind, I really wish King had worn a goofy Beefheart hat at least once. Might have taken things too far, though that seemed to be the film’s general modus operandi in all other regards.
As you seem a bigger My Bloody Valentine fan than I, you may be able to answer this… was Todd Farmer playing the exact same character in this film? I must commend the man on his dedication to writing lovably unlikable misogynists for himself to play.
Damon: Yeah, I wonder if the two Todd Farmer roles are of the same family. You got Beefheart too? I’m glad it wasn’t me. Billy Burke seemed to be having so much fun with his Lizard King strut that he brought the film up a level. I was also really enjoying Fichtner’s performanc, he plays the role like he’s thoroughly amused about everything. It’s a great cock of the walk. Really, all three leads are playing different variations on bad-ass archetypes. Unfortunately, Cage is playing a good terminator in the film, and so the over the top Cage stuff seems more dressing. He’s got a mission, he’s all about completing it, and even though he has sex with a woman while wearing sunglass, drinking Jack and smoking a cigar, he never seems to open up the can of crazy Cage. On some level, I think it could suggest he’s too engaged in the material (it’s an important quest for his character), on another you could say he’s sleepwalking. I’d err on the former – I think he knows what he’s doing in the film – but those who are looking for something more over the top are going to be slightly disappointed. But again, I think that suggests he trust the material to add the nuts for him. Amber Heard is a fine actress, but the film never totally figures out what to do with her. I think she’s fine, but she’s definitely playing support, and though she does it well, perhaps everyone else having a task or a journey leaves her a passenger. She’s not hard on the eye, though, and I’m glad they never force her into an age-questionable relationship with the lead. To that, I wish they had set up Cage’s sex scene a little better, because he doesn’t seem all that interested in it.
Still, I was constantly having fun with the movie throughout most of problems are minor. It’s very much an original project, but – like the adolescent thing – it feels like the dream movie of a twelve year old. I mean me as a twelve year old, finally getting to rent R-rated films like The Terminator or Aliens and having my mind blown. From the car fetishism (which seems as much a byproduct of cinema as gear-headness – they’re plainly driving Vanishing Point-style cars), to a certain wound that comes across as inspired by The Terminator, it’s a movie-movie, but never so overtly so you feel like you’re just watching a knock-off. I would also say Farmer seems a disciple (much like Rob zombie) of the Tarantino school of colorful dialogue.
Joshua: Can’t say I got the Beefheart, but I get it, for sure. Jonah King loves him some purple velvet with white frills too.
Both Burke and Fichtner seemed very amused by everything. Both also seemed to have made the decision that their performances were going to be punctuated by strange ticks. Burke kept cracking his voice, which I thought was a strange character choice – yet it worked well enough when combined with his bizarre costume, general demeanor, and lack of a dick. And Fichtner clearly had a ball with all his sniffing and smelling, and staccato speaking pattern. Without giving anything away, I also enjoyed the direction the Accountant went as a character – significantly more interesting than I was expecting.
As for Heard, I went back and forth on her. She does indeed get sidelined routinely, and generally speaking I hate lazy grrrl power in movies, but after a certain point, the fact that she was constantly punching and kicking people started to appeal to me on some dumb base level. And not to abandon my critical respectability here, but she was spectacularly hot. Frankly, it was a bit weird to costume/style a character in a non-sexual, father-daughter-esque role so skankily. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
Cage. I won’t lie, I went into this film expecting/wanting gonzo Cage. Ghost Rider/Elvis Cage. The film certainly can’t be faulted for not delivering on my desires, but I’m not entirely sure which Cage the film wanted either. The epic fucking-shoot-out scene you mention (my theater lost their shit when he took that swig of Jack Daniel’s mid-scene, btw) seems like the kind of bit necessitating gonzo Cage. But other scenes seem to call for Clint Eastwood-style surly silence. I’m not as optimistic as you that Cage wasn’t sleepwalking through this movie. Regardless, I suppose it is a credit to Lussier that Cage’s performance (be it lazy or a minor tonal misfire) never gets in the way of fun. His hair, though… man, he needs to lose that straggly mop ASAP. It has appeared in far too many films already, and I think it chipped away at his “badass” look in the film.
To go back to the 3D… Why was Drive Angry even in 3D? That was a rhetorical question, obviously. But yeah, beyond that opening scene, it didn’t even seem like they were trying. This was a major missed opportunity, I think. One that could have elevated the film up further. This should have been 2011’s Piranha 3D. This should have had the kind of egregious, gimmicky 3D that chaps James Cameron’s ass. As it was, once the bridge of my nose started hurting about 60 minutes into the film, I was just pissed off I had to be wearing these stupid glasses.
Damon: If I have any minor complaints, it’s that the 3-D is never as much fun as it was in My Bloody Valentine. Yeah. As per Cage’s hair, for Nicolas Cage to have good hair is rare these days, though the blond doesn’t do him any favors. Eh. Fun performances, enough action and nudity and fun to make the film kick, I recommend it, all things considered.
Joshua: I also think the film did an able job of skipping down the fine line of exposition. It is a ridiculous high-concept story, which requires are a certain necessary amount of explanation. Otherwise we won’t know what the fuck is going on. The conflict in these areas, of course, is that with any ridiculous high-concept, the more explanations we get, the stupider everything generally seems. Farmer and Lussier were wise to coyly ignore the deeper questions here, like how exactly Milton escaped from hell, while leaving us to apply our own ideas for characters like the Accountant.
Though I’m not sure how I feel about them so blatantly stealing “the Colt” (the demon killing gun) from Supernatural. At least it looked different.
Damon: I’ve never seen the show. Was it just me, or did you not know the credit sequence was part of the movie? I wasn’t 100% if that had anything to do with the rest of the film for a couple of minutes. I don’t know why – maybe because it was so animated – I thought it might have been a prologue for something that happened years and years ago. I mean, I got the hinkiness of a character named John Milton right off the bat. Yeah, I think it’s smart that the film doesn’t delve too deep into the religious side of things, and also creates a character that isn’t the devil in the movie to be his surrogate. I do love every time Fichtner tells us something about the boss downstairs.
You know with this rating system, I feel like this is a perfect three star movie if this was a four star limit, but since we have a five star rating system, I want to go 3.25, but I think I’m going to go a little high with:
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Joshua: There are actually a few other parallels with Supernatural, but there’s no need to get into that nerdiness. And I believe I ran to the bathroom during the credits, so I can’t really comment.
I, in fact, am gonna go with 3 stars here; a very positive 3 stars. Drive Angry was a great ride film, one I have already been recommending to friends (recommending in 2D, I should note), but it was also fairly slight and somewhat presumptuous of its own badassness at times. As much as I enjoyed myself, I don’t know that I will still be talking about it a year or two from now.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars