Drive Angry

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/25/11 18:53:46

"Looks Like Bill Murray Was Wrong For Once"
5 stars (Awesome)

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, “Drive Angry 3D” may look like deranged and depraved exploitation trash and it may sound like deranged and depraved exploitation trash but don’t let that fool you--it really is deranged and depraved exploitation trash. However, in the right hands, that is not necessarily a bad thing and in this particular case, the right hands have been found and the result is a cheerfully over-the-top ballet of bullets, breasts, blood and burnt rubber that is one of the most shamelessly entertaining slabs of unabashed cinematic cheese to come along in a while and if you have a taste for such things, it is more than likely that you will feel the same way. Quite frankly, the only thing that it is missing is a Meat Loaf song or two on the soundtrack and I suspect that they were left out on the basis that they would come across as too subtle and refined when compared with everything else on display.

Nicolas Cage--who else, really?--stars as John Milton and as the film opens, we see him escaping from the gates of Hell via muscle car to return to Earth. Yes, he has a perfectly good reason for doing this--his long-lost daughter has just been murdered by Jonah King (Billy Burke), the leader of the satanic cult that she inadvertently hooked up, and her infant daughter is scheduled to be sacrificed in a couple days time by King and his followers as part of a ritual designed to literally unleash Hell on Earth. Naturally, this will not stand and he goes off in pursuit to rescue his granddaughter and brutally blow away anyone who gets in his away. Aiding him in his quest is Piper (Amber Heard), an ass-kicking waitress who supplies both Milton and the film with both the requisite giggity-giggity factor and, perhaps more importantly, a 1969 Dodge Charger with which to continue his pursuit. (Trust me, in a film like this, you don’t want to be caught alive or dead behind the wheel of something as prosaic as a Prius.) As Milton and Piper follow King and his cult to Louisiana, they are themselves being chased by a couple of interested parties. One is a gruff-talking police captain (Tom Atkins) who helpfully reminds his men that when he says “Shoot at their tires,” he means “Shoot at their heads.” The other is a mysterious man known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner), who has followed Milton from Hell in order to bring him back but who is also willing to lend a hand (or a fuel-laden truck) when needed and who also supplies some details about the hoary underworld and Lucifer that will no doubt be of interest to eschatological scholars everywhere.

“Drive Angry” was co-written and directed by Patrick Lussier, whose previous effort was the recent remake of “My Bloody Valentine,” a seemingly unnecessary horror movie that surprisingly turned out to be about five times better than even the most optimistic viewer could have hoped. Like that earlier film, “Drive Angry” is grind house gibberish through and through but unlike such things as “Shoot Em Up” or “Machete,” similar efforts that spent so much time showing how hip and ironic they were that they forgot to be entertaining as well, it serves up its sleazy thrills with any quotation marks to speak off--though it was presumably made on a budget far larger than any of its genre antecedents could have hoped for, there really isn’t anything in it that could not have been seen unspooling on the screen of the late, great Woods Theatre in downtown Chicago during its days when the fights in the audience were usually better than the ones on the screen. The screenplay from Lussier and Todd Farmer is so chock-full of lurid bits of action (including one jaw-dropping bit in which Milton blows away a motel room full of enemies without once removing the cigar from his mouth, the bottle of bourbon from his hand or the naked waitress from his crotch) and purposely purple pieces of prose (“I’m gonna beat you to death with all that is left of your daughter.”) that you almost get the sense that they were having a personal contest to see who could outdo the other with the audience for once being the eventual winner. From a directing standpoint, Lussier keeps things moving at a breakneck pace throughout and stages the numerous action sequences (including numerous car stunts that, at least until the ending, appear to have been staged largely with practical effects instead of cartoonish CGI) with a lot of flair and energy. And while I still pretty much loathe 3D and everything it stands for at this point, I must admit that, as he did with “My Bloody Valentine,” Lussier has so much fun throwing various bits of viscera at the camera that you can’t help but go along with it and, as he does in one point in which a flashback is literally superimposed over Milton’s head, he even comes up with a visual touch that is genuinely inventive.

As anyone who has gone to the movies in the last few years knows, Nicolas Cage has been in more than his share of crap that he seems to have selected based on the size of the paycheck rather than the quality of the screenplay. Every once in a while, however, he somehow stumbles upon one that perfectly suits his unique acting skill set despite a premise that brings new meaning to the word “outlandish”--things like “Knowing” or the still-underrated remake of “The Wicker Man”--and my guess is that when he came across this script, he probably agreed to do it after reading the opening scene in which he bloodily blows away a trio of bad guys while informing them that “Hell is already walking the Earth.” Like everything else about “Drive Angry,” his performance is wildly overblown--so much so, in fact, that the 3D almost seems superfluous--but like everything else about the film, it somehow works. I don’t know about you but I can’t think of another actor around today who could have possibly made this part into something even remotely workable and his secret is that he has embraced the ridiculousness without letting his performance devolve into mere camp. Even when he is explaining that in Hell, “Fire isn’t the worst thing--it’s the video feed,” he handles the moment in such a way that it comes off as being hilarious without winking to the audience so as to remind them to laugh. The other actors also do a good job of bringing life to their unreservedly one-dimensional characters--as the CPA literally from Hell, Fichtner is such a compelling and hilarious presence that he actually pulls off the seeming impossible task of stealing scenes from the likes of Nicolas Cage in full flower, as it were.

As I believe I have indicated at least a dozen times in the course of this review, “Drive Angry” is thoroughly disreputable and thoroughly entertaining trash from beginning to end and the fact that it is being unleashed in theaters on the same weekend that the utterly twee likes of “The King’s Speech,” a film that is little more than a filmed diorama, is presumably going to win the Best Picture Oscar is a bit of cinematic kismet that is worth savoring, I suppose. Of course, there are plenty of people out there who are liable to think of it as nothing more than repellent junk that is merely one more symbol of the death of American cinema and others who may be put off by Summit Entertainment’s bewildering decision to hide it from critics until the last possible second (typically a signal that they have a turkey on their hands). Are you the type of person likely to embrace it in all its nuttiness? Well, if you recognized the name “John Milton” when I first mentioned it and moved on, you are probably not the ideal audience member. However, if you saw the name and then smiled or laughed in recognition, you should hop in the car and peel out to the nearest multiplex as quickly as possible.

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