Part occult thriller, part speed-demon road movie, Drive Angry is a neo-exploitation throwback that actually feels like it could’ve once been seen on the lower half of a 42nd Street double bill. Eschewing the faux-grindhouse stylistic tics (missing reels, scratched frames) and rehashed 70s-movie plotting similar “homages” too-often indulge, it instead serves up a heaping helping of the things any B-movie fan wants: badass antiheroes, naked babes, bloody violence, wild sex, sexy cars, Satanic cults, and ridiculous plotting all done without apology.
Nicolas Cage — quite frankly, the perfect actor for this material — stars as John Milton (yes…yes), a whisky-chugging felon who escapes from the ultimate prison — Hell — in order to save his infant granddaughter from being ritually sacrificed by the preening, drawling, leather-pants-wearing Jonah King (Billy Burke). Along the way he acquires a traveling companion in the form of sexy, spunky and ass-kicking waitress Piper (Amber Heard) and is pursued by a mysterious, dapper gent who goes by “The Accountant” (William Fichtner), an agent of Lucifer determined to bring Milton back to Hell.
Can we get an, ahem, “Hell yeah!”? Drive Angry is a high-octane blast, made by people who clearly relished what they were making, and that sense of fun is palpable in every frame of the film. Its the kind of film that revels in its junky crudity, an unpretentious adrenaline shot of a film that just seeks to entertain in the most deviant, ludicrous and insane ways possible. Limbs are blown off in gloriously gimmicky 3D. Cage indulges in a gunfight while still giving it to a hot, nude blonde. Police cars roar off bridges. Beer is drunk out of skulls and femurs are used as walking sticks. Drive Angry is trash movie heaven.
The movie comes from the same team who gave us the splatter-happy, formulaic-but-fun My Bloody Valentine 3D (director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer) and they’ve gotten even better at delivering the demented 3D lunacy. Shot, rather than post-converted, in the RealD format, this is one of the rare occasions where the gimmick is worth it; Lussier and cinematographer Brian Pearson bring incredible depth to the look of the film, and isn’t afraid to use the illusion for the in-your-face aspect it was, after all, designed for.
Cage is better than he has been in years; neither phoning it in, nor relying on the typical Cage mannerisms, he creates a gruff, laconic and driven protaganist that, while short of Snake Plissken-iconic, is perfectly suited for a tale such as this. Heard looks like your typical luscious vixen-ingenue, but she’s a blonde Megan Fox with actual chops; she makes Piper in a tough, steely and likable heroine. While David Morse has sadly little to do in his few scenes, Fichtner and Burke steal the whole damn enchilada. Burke is a gleefully hammy villain, but Fichtner is just plain awesome. The veteran character actor turns what could’ve been a rote, one-note supernatural pursuer into what is perhaps the movie’s biggest bright spot.
Even on its juicy pulp terms, could Drive Angry have been better? Sure. The reported $50 million budget is bloated, and allows Lussier to engage in too much obvious CGI, when the movie may have worked far better as a leaner, stripped down thriller more in line with its obvious antecedents like Race with the Devil. But with a movie as this shamelessly fun as Drive Angry, that’s just nitpicking. Utterly preposterous, hopscotching from genre to genre (its a black comedy! no, its a horror flick! nope, guess again its a down-and-dirty action/car fetish/western movie, take your pick), pulling out all the stops and revving its engine, Drive Angry is a silly, schlocky, engaging and downright fun ride.