A film review by Craig J. Koban March 9, 2010

DRIVE ANGRY 3D jj
½ 

2011, R, 104 mins.

 

John Milton: Nicolas Cage / Piper: Amber Heard / The Accountant: William Fichtner / Jonah King: Billy Burke / Webster: David Morse / Frank: Todd Farmer / Mona: Christa Campbell / Candy: Charlotte Ross / Cap: Tom Atkins / Fat Lou: Jack McGee

Directed by Patrick Lussier / Screenplay by Todd Farmer & Lussier.

SCREENED IN
3D

Remember the GRINDHOUSE double feature, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez' ode to the degenerative, exploitative, gutter trash B-movies that dominated midnight and drive-in screenings in the 1960’s and 1970’s?  If those filmmakers were ever looking to re-release their cult hit by augmenting it to triple feature length, then I'm quite positive that DRIVE ANGRY 3D would most certainly fit the bill.  Just as was the case with PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF, DRIVE ANGRY revels in loud, bombastic, vicious, and preposterously tasteless excess, but unashamedly so.  Bad movie trash has no idea that it’s trash and thinks it's more transcending; good movie trash understands its inherent trashiness and commits itself to its oftentimes-laughable junkiness. 

Just how junky and trashy is DRIVE ANGRY 3D?  Let’s do a roll call of elements: gratuitous nudity and gore…check.  Ludicrous dialogue and lame one-liners…check.  Honkytonk bars and redneck diners…check.  Bald headed and tattooed adorned hillbillies…check.  Scantily glad waitresses that are physically abused by their husbands, but can defend themselves…check.  Joy-gasmic looking muscle cars that engage in wanton, tire squealing, high octane chases and crashes…check.  Religious/apocalyptic/fundamentalist cults led by a partially dickless sociopath that likes sacrificing babies…check.  And…finally…a man literally from hell that comes to Earth to enact some shotgun-wielding (among other things) justice in the most bloodtastic manner possible…make that a double check. 

The man from hell just referenced is named “Milton” ( a clear reference to PARADISE LOST, which may or may not be understood by this film’s intended audience) and he is played by Nicolas Cage in yet another prime example of the actor adorning a ridiculously fake rug to add to his dubious resume of past films where he has adorned other preposterous rugs (this time, with his long, greasy blonde locks and five o’ clock shadow, he looks oddly like Chad Kroger, lead singer from Nickleback).  In many respects, Cage looks as embarrassingly silly as he did as a (heaven help us) knight of the Crusades in January’s SEASON OF THE WITCH, but at least the rest of the film around him in DRIVE ANGRY is equally daft.   

As the film opens Milton appears like an avenging angel of sorts, showing up at the least opportune moment for some deplorable bad guys, blowing them away into pieces without so much as blinking an eye.  Yet, for as grisly as Milton’s murder spree appears, it soon becomes apparent that he has a motive for engaging in an orgy of death and dismemberment…not to mention that he certainly may not be of this plane of existence.  His ultimate end game is to locate a brutal cult leader named Jonah King (played with a devilish capriciousness and wide-eyed fanaticism by Billy Burke, a far, far cry from his father role in the TWILIGHT films).  It seems that King has babynapped Milton’s granddaughter and – gasp! – is planning to sacrifice her during the next full moon for reasons that are never fully explained, not that they really need to be.   

Milton’s one-man mission has a few obstacles throw in its way: Firstly, he hooks up with a short-shorts wearing former waitress named Piper (the scintillatingly leggy and sultry Amber Heard, more than fulfilling this film’s need for sumptuous eye candy).  The two first crossed paths at a Louisiana diner and they later become unlikely allies when Milton comes to her defense when Piper’s husband beats on her, partially for withholding sex from him, but mostly because she wants to leave him.  As Milton and Piper journey together to the location of King’s planned sacrifice location, they find themselves pursued by a mysterious figure known only as “The Accountant”, who possesses supernatural abilities far beyond your typical auditor.  It becomes clear that The Accountant is the right hand man to Satan and wishes to capture Milton and return him to hell, where he escaped in order to engage in his mission.   

Patrick Lussier, a Canadian Born horror and thriller filmmaker, directs DRIVE ANGRY by putting the pedal to the floor and clicking into the highest gear possible while never looking back.  The film salaciously and thunderously careens from one pleasurably over-the-top and chaotically violent extreme to the next, so much so that the film becomes a welcome exercise in engaging in and enjoying its inherent badness.   There is rarely a moment where this film does not have its tongue firmly in its cheek. 

There are many moments that are incredulous howlers where you kind of just have to roll your eyes, shake your head, and just go with it: One involves Milton - with a naked bar waitress/floozy straddling him, mid-intercourse and well on the way to orgasm – whipping out his firearms and dexterously spinning around his motel room, mowing down a squad of King’s henchmen.  Milton also has a shotgun on steroids affectionately called "The Godkiller" that seems to have some serious kickback during the film’s most outlandishly blood-spattered battles.  Another scene involves The Accountant driving a truck filled with liquid hydrogen (don’t ask) through a police-roadblock with predictable results.   Then there is the climatic scene of King’s sacrificial ceremony, taking place at an abandoned prison yard and involving his topless and bottomless minions preparing to surrender Milton’s goddaughter to unholy powers, but only after chugging on copious amounts of alcohol.   

Most of the performances here seem in on the joke:  Amber Heard – who one film critic humorously, but fairly, labeled as "Megan Fox with talent” – is certainly on board for the T and A quotient of the film, but she comes across less as a pathetically one-note love interest or damsel-in-distress victim and more as a snarky, tough-talking, fist swinging heroine that can kick as much religious-wack-job ass as Milton.  I was not surprised by how limitlessly attractive Heard was in the film, but I was by how capably she moulds sex appeal and toughness while holding her own against the high testosterone factor in the film.  Then there is the wickedly unflappable demeanor and delicious dry wit of William Fichtner as the Devil’s gopher, who manages to get some of the film’s largest laughs for how he manages to play his role admirably straight during the most absurd instances.   

What’s really unexpectedly frustrating, though, on the performance front is Nicolas Cage himself.  This is an actor that, in the past, has rarely had a difficult time of going histrionically over-the-top and insanely madcap for a role when it's required, which I guess is why I was so disappointed by how he doesn’t fully harness his ferociously untamed and deliriously nutty theatricality in DRIVE ANGRY.  Instead of going for absolute broke and manically unhinging himself in this crazed role, Cage looks rather stiff and uncomfortable during this whole film’s nonsensical ride.   We all know that this is a paycheck role for the actor, but lazily phoning in a cheesy part like this hurts the film’s overall effectiveness.  I recall seeing Cage’s brief cameo in the faux trailer WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS (that was part of the intermission of GRINDHOUSE) and was left wondering why he did not play Milton with the same affectionate wink to the audience.  Instead, he just looks tired and bored here. 

The film has a few other issues, like its running time, which goes on perhaps 20 minutes or so more than it should, and the fact that baby sacrifice is arguably a bit too dark and decrepit for a film as ridiculous as this.  The 3D of the film – which was shot with actual 3D cameras instead of getting a lame-assed and wretched upconvert after the fact – is quite sharp, well delineated, and filled with the obligatory and gimmicky in-your-face shots that you’d expect, but the high ticket surcharge seems to have scared filmgoers away (its opening weekend take was the lowest ever for a 3D release).  My two and a half star rating seems justified, especially if you are forced to pay $14-15 plus for 3D admission.  However, if you pay a bargain-bin ticket price at a run-down, second tier theatre to see DRIVE ANGRY – which is where films like it seem to belong – then maybe I would give the film a passable three stars.  Grindhouse film lovers, no doubt, would agree with me. 

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