I’m sorry, folks. I’m really, truly sorry.
I know this film came out last month, but February was such an awful month for new releases and I wanted to save my Regal passes for all the great movies coming out in March. Moreover, this film flew completely under the radar, with no ads or press screenings ahead of time. For all these reasons, it wasn’t until tonight’s film had fallen out of the top ten and nearly out of theaters when I finally decided “now or never” and gave it a chance.
And now, having seen the film, I feel like I’ve done a disservice to you, my dear readers. I could have and should have recommended Drive Angry before it was too late.
Let’s take it from the top. The premise begins with a young woman who had joined a satanic cult and was brutally slain while attempting to defect. She left behind a newborn child, who is now set for ritual sacrifice. Enter John Milton (Nicolas Cage), the newborn’s grandfather. He’s out to save the child and to take vengeance on the cult that murdered his daughter. Also, Milton is a deceased gangster freshly escaped from Hell, tracked by a demon working to bring him back to the flames.
Yeah, I know. How many times have we heard that story, right?!
That combination of premise and title should be enough to clue you in that this is no grandiose character drama. No, this is a true modern-day grindhouse flick, filled with gratuitous violence, copious swearing and a ton of sexual content, all shot in gimmicky 3D. Not only did the cast and crew refuse to take this film seriously, it’s transparently obvious that they were all having the time of their goddamn lives on this project.
Take Nicolas Cage, for example. Cage’s career has been pretty hit-and-miss lately (Kick-Ass and Bad Lieutenant; Season of the Witch, Sorceror’s Apprentice and G-Force, respectively), but Cage is clearly in his comfort zone with this lead role. He effortlessly sells every one of his badass moments, down to the last one-liner. When Cage is called upon to wax emotional about Milton’s time in hell and his regrets about family life, he perfectly walks that line between breaking hearts and chewing scenery. This film is filled to the brim with outlandish moments and improbable stunts, and Cage makes them look so damn effortless here. It’s really amazing to watch.
Then there’s the sidekick. Piper, played by Amber Heard, crosses Milton’s path early in the movie and keeps going with him for lack of anyplace else to go. Fortunately, Piper is far more than just a pretty face. She may not be an undead killing machine like Milton, but Piper is still a feisty little minx who’s perfectly willing and able to bring an ass-kicking to anyone who crosses her path. In a genre filled with totally worthless eye candy capable of doing nothing more than whining and screaming, it’s so very refreshing to see a sexy lead female with brains, brawn and barn-burning beauty all in one perfect yet vulnerable package.
I could go on and talk about the supporting cast, but most of them are just lambs for the slaughter. Billy Burke is pretty solid as the cult’s leader, but he doesn’t really have to do anything other than be a total douchebag. Of the whole supporting cast, the true champion is unquestionably William Fichtner.
He plays a demon, known only as “The Accountant,” responsible for bringing Milton back to Hell. Fichtner’s performance in this role defies description. This guy is a crafty motherfucker with an unnaturally calm demeanor. He’s obviously not quite human, but not so out of the ordinary that he wouldn’t blend into a crowd. More importantly, Fichtner effectively sells us a true monster. One second of screen time is all he needs to send the message that whoever the Accountant is, he’s bad news. This makes it all the more powerful when something comes along that scares the Accountant out of his wits. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.
Visually, the movie is about what you’d expect. To start with, the picture is loaded with gratuitous nudity and excessive CG-augmented bloodshed, with various things flying toward the screen throughout. The debauchery and 3D gimmickry aren’t nearly to the level of Piranha 3D, however, though I doubt the bar will get raised much higher after that one.
The gunfights and car stunts are likewise gaudy in their 3D presentation, with bullets flying through the screen and such. Fortunately, the action in this film is remarkable in its staging, presentation and creativity. The film even has a scene in which Cage gets a combination shoot-out and sex scene, with a pistol in one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other. I’d argue that Shoot ‘Em Up did it better, but the effort is impressive nonetheless.
It’s such a shame that Drive Angry became a casualty of a bad month for movies. In a time when the vast majority of action and horror schlock is a product of remaking and recycling what’s come before it (yes, even Piranha 3D), something this original and energetic is something to be celebrated. This film was wonderfully made to be a tasteless thrill ride and I had an amazing time watching it. If it’s still playing in a theater near you, I urge you to go see this film in 3D on the big screen while you still can.