Director : Patrick Lussier
Screenplay : Todd Farmer & Patrick Lussier
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Nicolas Cage (John Milton), Amber Heard (Piper), William Fichtner (The Accountant), Billy Burke (Jonah King), David Morse (Webster), Todd Farmer (Frank), Christa Campbell (Mona), Charlotte Ross (Candy), Tom Atkins (Cap), Jack McGee (Fat Lou), Katy Mixon (Norma Jean), Wanetah Walmsley (American Indian Mother), Robin McGee (Guy with Camera Phone), Fabian C. Moreno (Latino Busboy), Edrick Browne (Rookie), Marc Macaulay (Sarge), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Roy)
Referring to the agonies of spending an eternity in hell, Nicolas Cage’s character in Drive Angry notes that the worst part is not the burning, but rather “the video feed,” meaning that one is forced to bear constant witness to the suffering of his loved ones. And, while that sounds genuinely horrible, I couldn’t help but think that the worst possible video feed in hell would be a nonstop loop of movies like Drive Angry. Loud, vicious, tasteless, and inane, it thunders at you from every direction with a wild abandon that is more irritating and desperate than enlivening. A few moments of dry, dark humor courtesy of William Fichtner’s hell-spawn “Accountant” aside, Drive Angry has nothing to offer but the most two-dimensional sort of bombast that is given no additional punch from having been shot in 3-D.
Cage’s character, John Milton (yes--the movie’s attempts at being clever are that shallow and unoriginal), is a cryptic assassin hot on the trail of Jonah King (Billy Burke), a sleazy cult leader who has already lured Milton’s daughter into his midst, had her killed, and has now kidnapped and is threatening to sacrifice his infant granddaughter. Milton’s origins are more or less kept under wraps even though the movie’s advertising campaign has made it abundantly clear that he is a dead man who literally drives out of hell on a mission, which we see him doing during the movie’s cartoonish opening vision of the underworld. Yet, screenwriters Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier (the latter of whom also directed) insist on playing it coy for much of the movie, going through the motions of making Milton a mystery man even though there’s really nothing to hide.
Apparently unable to go about his business alone, Milton partners with a feisty waitress named Piper (Amber Heard), who can hit as hard as any man, but still look like she’s ready for a photo spread in the latest Dixie edition of Maxim. Perhaps because the movie has no real character of its own, Lussier tried to infuse the imagery with a sense of Southern Gothic oddity, but what that really amounts to is most of the characters speaking in bad Southern accents, which only serves to accentuate the general crudity of everything on screen, from the storyline, to the acting, to the embarrassingly cheap-looking digital effects. Nicolas Cage, who is no stranger to taking roles in terrible movies (perhaps this is his way of walking in the footsteps of Marlon Brando, the literal godfather of Method actors?), seems particularly wooden, growling his lines with only the barest level of conviction. Heard tried to fill in the gaps with her sexy-violent posturing, but it is only Fichtner, whose character has apparently been dispatched from hell to reclaim Milton and bring him home, who seems to be having any real fun. His dry-bones delivery and nonchalance in the most absurd of situations provides a welcome relief to what is otherwise the equivalent of a bad civic-theater version of B-movie mayhem.
Lussier, an editor-turned-director whose most notable achievement to date behind the camera was the amusingly crass 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine, turns up the guitar rock on the soundtrack, piles on the gratuitous nudity at every turn, fetishizes the film’s classic muscle machines, and throws as many objects out of the screen as possible, but it’s all to little effect. Lussier and Todd Farmer, who also contributed to the My Bloody Valentine script and again manages to get himself cast in the movie as a boorish jerk caught having sex at the wrong time, are clearly trying to pull a Robert Rodriguez and reimagine the cinematic trash of the Nixon era, but they do it so badly and with such strenuous effort that it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. As schlock auteur John Waters famously noted, there’s good bad taste and bad bad taste, and Drive Angry is the worst kind of bad taste.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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