Drive Angry 3D
You can't help but wonder what Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez could have done with a movie like Drive Angry. They would have been able to add a touch of style and much needed wit to a movie like this. The movie that we did get, directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D), is certainly well made and is sure to become a cult classic with certain audiences. I just wasn't won over by the relentless noise of the film, and the eventual sameness of the graphic, over the top violence.
At least they got the casting right. Could anyone else but Nicolas Cage get away with playing a character like John Milton? Not to be confused with the famous poet who shares his name. this film's Milton is a hard-edged felon and murderer who's escaped from Hell and returned to Earth in order to seek revenge on those who murdered his daughter. How did he escape from Hell? The movie's a bit vague on the details, but it apparently involved stealing a hot rod car, and a mystical gun that has the power to kill gods and demons. Now he's driving around the streets in said stolen car, tracking down and killing the people responsible. The killers are members of a satanic cult led by a man named Jonah King (Billy Burke from the Twilight films). One of the red flags that popped up early on with me is that the Jonah King character isn't all that interesting of a villain. Despite the fact he has hundreds of faceless extras who view him as a messiah, and pretty much exist to be blown away or run over by Cage, he's not the least bit charismatic, and I had to wonder what his followers see in him.
Not only did Jonah arrange for the murder of Milton's daughter, but he's now holding her infant daughter hostage, and is planning to sacrifice her in a ceremony during the next full moon. Despite time being short, Milton does still have time to stop in every sleazy bar and restaurant in town, and pick up a woman to come along for the ride. She's Piper (Amber Heard), a foul-mouthed waitress who senses a strange connection with Milton, and joins his quest after he saves her from her abusive trailer trash fiance. I'm guessing about the strange connection part, actually. The movie doesn't give her much motivation to come along, other than the screenplay called for a sexy woman who could throw a punch and handle a gun when needed. There's also a character called The Accountant (William Fichtner), who is the best part of the film. He's a guy who answers directly to Satan, and is trying to hunt Milton down and send him back to where he belongs.
The reason why The Accountant character works isn't so much the way he's written, but the way Fichtner plays him. He's the only one up on the screen having any fun. Cage is surprisingly dour and downbeat, with vengeance and killing being his only character motivations. (Though he does get off one impressive sequence where he participates in a gun battle while having sex with a woman at the same time.) And while Heard gets off a couple zingy one liners, she's really just there for eye candy. Fichtner, meanwhile, fills his performance with glee, and hits the right tone in every scene he's in. It's a shame he disappears for such long stretches of the film. There's also a character played by David Morse, who shows up as an old friend of Milton's, but he's really just there for exposition purposes only. I don't expect deep characters in my shoot 'em up exploitation movies, but most of these people are dull even by cardboard cutout standards.
The movie's big selling point is the violence, which is appropriately bloody and over the top, but gets repetitive, as many of the action sequences seem to drag on. The car chases and shoot outs are shot with little flair, despite the addition of the 3D. On that subject, I do have to say, this is one of the few films I've seen that did not suffer a tremendous drop in picture quality due to the glasses. Yeah, a lot of the 3D is gimmicky with stuff flying at the camera non-stop, but I must admit it's done well, and no detail has been lost in the process. It almost seems like a joke that movies with much bigger budgets than this can't get it right, but this cheap exploitation film that will most likely turn off all but the most hardened gore fanatic does just fine. I'm not changing my mind about 3D being the biggest scam in cinema of the past decade, but I can admit when it's used well.
Drive Angry has plenty of fast cars, beautiful women (in various stages of undress), and gory carnage. For some viewers, that will be more than enough. It wasn't for me. I wanted a little more wit to go with it. It shows itself every now and then (mostly when The Accountant is on screen), so you know the filmmakers were onto something here. It's a shame they didn't have the desire to go further. I will say this - The movie did give me further appreciation for Machete, a similar and recent action movie that got it right.
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