I’ll say this much for Drive Angry: It doesn’t fuck around. It doesn’t waste time pretending to be something that it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t really waste time, period. It gives you only the barest hint of an introduction, and then it puts its foot to the floor and takes off gleefully into a burst of guns, gore, tits and unrepentant violence. Directed by Patrick Lussier (who co-wrote it with Todd Farmer), it must have been the world’s shortest script and one of the easiest to write. It’s an hour and forty-five minutes of unapologetic, shitkicking, brain-shelving stupidity. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
For what its worth, there is a story to Drive Angry: Nicolas Cage plays John Milton (natch), a dead man who escaped from Hell (not a metaphorical one, the actual hell) in a ‘64 Buick Riviera loaded with guns. He’s seeking out a smarmy, psychopathic cult leader named Jonah King (Billy Burke, Bella’s kindly poppa in Twilight) who’s responsible for murdering Milton’s daughter and kidnapping his granddaughter for nefarious purposes. On his tail is the one known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner), who serves as Satan’s repo man, determined to bring him back to whatever circle he busted out of. Along the way, Milton picks up Piper (Amber Heard), a foul-mouthed, two-fisted diner waitress who gets swept up in the chase.
It’s fucking dumb. All of it. Cage’s character is some god-awful, hell-spawned combination of Cameron Poe and Sailor Ripley, full of painful hillbillyisms and every piece of affected fucknuttery that he’s gathered together in his varied and insane career. He’s full of steely glares and raspy, monosyllabic proclamations of braggadocio, and it’s so comically obvious that you can’t help but giggle at it. At this point in his career, as has been eloquently noted on this site before, Cage isn’t even acting anymore. He’s just showing up and collecting checks, and audiences love the hell out of it for inexplicable reasons. In Drive Angry, he isn’t even terribly funny… he’s playing Milton as a straight-up, hell-bent for leather, fallen angel of vengeance. He punches, kicks, shoots and stabs his way through legions of heavily armed redneck cultists, pausing only to reload and to drive a series of gorgeous muscle cars into oblivion.
Cage makes the movie vaguely watchable, but it’s his supporting cast that makes the film enjoyable. The bulk of its dark comic relief lies with Fichtner’s “Accountant,” an indefatigable, demonic oddball who strangely has the only thing remotely resembling subtlety. That’s not saying much, considering that he has one scene where he drives a gas truck through a state police roadblock, blowing up cars left and right, while “That’s The Way I Like It” blares through the stereo. That’s Drive Angry for you, however — it revels in the absurd. Fichtner is one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, a tireless actor who rarely headlines, but always entertains. With his near-skeletal facial structure and a gift for menace, he’s perfectly cast, even when killing cops to a disco soundtrack.
Amber Heard’s Piper is equally fun to watch. Despite her rapacious sex appeal, she’s a pugnacious, tenacious dervish, with a mouth like a sailor and a heart of gold. She narrowly avoids the sassy broad stereotype, and gets in more than her share of fistfights and swearing matches. Billy Burke, another underused actor, gets to strut around like a devil-worshiping rockabilly star, complete with devilish smirk, velvet jacket and soul patch.
Which isn’t to say that anyone deserves a statue for their performance, because frankly Drive Angry is ten pounds of dumb in a five pound sack. I’m writing this review while paying half-assed attention to the Oscars, and as Mrs. TK pointedly noted, this is probably the closest Drive Angry is going to get to an Academy Award. It’s ham-fisted, it’s got nothing resembling restraint, it forgoes anything except the slimmest glimmer of plot and character development, and the dialogue ranges from glibly clever to teeth-grindingly awkward. When the film slows down to catch its breath and give the characters a chance to talk seriously, I found myself squirming uncomfortably in my seat because of its brutally awful characterizations and clunky, derivative colloquies.
But Lord, does it blow stuff up but good. Drive Angry is about as hard an “R” rated movie as you can find, full of gore and goo and bone and gristle. It revels in its 3D gunfights, with bits of meat flying at you from all directions. The action choreography is actually quite good, and the car chases (of which there are, unsurprisingly, many) are outstanding. It’s ultra-violence to be sure, but it’s so ludicrously cranked up to 11 that it’s hard to find yourself too shocked or grossed out, especially when it’s all done with a tongue jammed firmly in cheek. One of the other merits of its action scenes is there’s less emphasis on the over-editing or jump cuts that mar so many modern action movies… or maybe the damn flick was just moving so fast that I didn’t even notice. The 3D effects were actually relatively sparsely used, and as such I found them to be surprisingly enjoyable. Perhaps 3D technology is a bit more affecting when they’re used in a real-world scenario, instead of a CGI-infested overloads like Resident Evil: Afterlife (although the finale’s effects are pretty awful). Regardless, it wasn’t nearly as distracting as I’ve found it to be in other films.
In the end, Drive Angry will likely end up yet another ridiculous, potentially forgettable entry on Cage’s long, bizarre resume. Lussier takes a basic revenge movie premise and throws it into an absurdist blender, mixing in the supernatural, a love of classic cars, and a taste for savagery, and out comes Drive Angry. It’s loud and brash and chock full of nudity, profanity and violence. It’s an R-rated teenaged wet dream crossed with a video game, with little artfulness and even less brains. The discerning viewer will find it rife with cliché and an almost embarrassing inelegance. And goddamn if I didn’t enjoy the ass off of it.