Film review by: Witney Seibold
Patrick Lussier‘s “Drive Angry” is the first great B movie of the year. It’s a supernatural action film, shot in 3-D, and starring Hollywood-bad-boy-turned-bugnuts-crazy-B-movie-luminary Nicolas Cage, but carries none of the usual “geek gravitas” that seems to be infecting so much of the genre entertainment of the day; there are no heavy-handed semblances to Lussier’s sense of “importance,” nor self-congratulatory, pop-culture riffs; there is no grittiness or falsely-inflated tragedy to the proceedings. There is just a hugely weird storyline about a man, escaped from Hell, trying to rescue his infant granddaughter from a clan of evil Satanists, a lot of mugging and pointedly ridiculous action (including a scene that was ripped off wholesale from the equally giddy “Shoot ‘Em Up”), a huge number of attractive women with no clothes on (although the film’s heroine, played by the painfully attractive Amber Heard, remains largely clothed throughout the film), and no small amount of explodey car mayhem. When I go to a B film, I want it to be ridiculous and fun. “Drive Angry” provided that to me. That it is ridiculous and unbelievable and even, perhaps, a bit difficult to follow, only adds to its charm and its enjoyment; a good B film shouldn’t be entirely good, if you take my meaning.
Audiences seem to finally be making the distinction between live-action films that were shot using 3-D cameras, and feature films that were retrofitted with digital 3-D effects after the fact. “Drive Angry” (whose director also made the enjoyably cheesy horror film “My Bloody Valentine 3D”) is very careful to advertise that it was indeed SHOT in 3-D. This is an earnest attempt to exploit a technical process that is so clearly a cashgrab gimmick. 3-D is not an excuse to turn your film into an “event.” It was, is, and always shall be, a cheap gimmick used to inflate the clunky grandiosity of potentially stupid genre fare. As long as that’s true, treat it that way. Don’t release “Avatar” in 3-D, and expect me to think it’s more important. Release silly supernatural car chase movies like “Drive Angry” in 3-D, and I will take notice.
Anyway, to the film: Nicolas Cage plays a leather-clad badass named, get this, John Milton (although it’s not that John Milton), who speeds across the alkali flats of central America, behind the wheel of a souped-up, old-fashioned muscle car, blasting 1970s gutbucket metal, crashing into bad guys and asking vague questions like “Where is she??” He carries an impressive menu of guns, but, most notably, has a five-barreled shotgun he keeps in an old wooden case. When he stops at a diner, he witnesses a pretty put-upon waitress named Piper (Heard) getting molested by her ugly bossman, quitting her horrible job, and catching her fiancee in bed with another women. He also stops to nearly tongue kiss Katy Mixon in all of that. He accumulates Piper, and the two of them team up to accomplish his unrevealed quest.
Following both of them is a suave, silver-tongued, suit-wearing sleaze who calls himself “The Accountant.” William Fictner plays this character, and he deserves some sort of acting award for bringing so much bloody menace, humor and insanity to an otherwise average role. He finds new ways to use the “F” word. He stops and actually does tongue kiss Katy Mixon. The Accountant may or may not be an agent of Hell. O.k. He is.
Through little revelations (and not a single scene of boring flashback or exposition), we learn that Milton is on the trail of a slimy Satanist priest (Billy Burke), who has a human femur on the end of his cane, and who lost his penis in a horrible biting incident. The Satanist intends to sacrifice Milton’s infant granddaughter in a few days’ time, and he’s risking opening a slathering hellmouth, etc. etc. Now Milton must use his aloof, badass attitude, super supergun, and black leather jacket to stop the bad guys. Heard must aid him, mostly by her use of feral screaming, and by saying cute, dirty things in a cute Southern accent. Also, he manages to wrangle some muscle cars from David Morse, who classes up the joint a little bit.
I said the following of another Nicolas Cage movie: This film is like a biker tattoo come to life. The cars are loud, the ladies are all hot in their cutoff jeans, the beer flows freely, and the ‘splosions are frequent. Satan is lurking around the edges, and there’s a big ol’ badass gun. Meat Loaf has a song on the soundtrack. This is the film that the Cage-starring comic-book-based supernatural revenge film “Ghost Rider” should have been.
“Wacky” has become a hard sell in this modern climate of self-awareness, and carefully protracted irony. Some silly films come along, but they don’t become the cult hits they deserve to be. It seems that “wacky” is now hiding under the skin of our action films, and writhing just before our eyeballs in appropriately used, gimmicky 3-D. It’s only when we see a film like “Drive Angry” that humor and fun and pointed acknowledgment of the silliness of certain action conceits become clear to discerning audiences. And then we can finally have fun again.