Drive Angry 3D is the kind of slam-bang, no-hold-barred action film I like. In its heedless brutality and machismo, in its willingness to tell a totally preposterous story, and in director Patrick Lussier’s audacity to shoot it in 3D, it sidesteps the roadblocks of logic and taste and achieves a perverse level of entertainment. Do you have standards? Leave them at the door. They won’t help you as you watch Nicholas Cage engage in a slow motion shootout while simultaneously having sex. But describing this scene doesn’t do it justice. It’s something you have to see to believe. I haven’t been a critic for very long, but I can safely say that not too many movies have gone that far, and I’m fairly certain it will probably be quite some time before one will again.
Lussier’s previous effort, the 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine, was a great disappointment, in part because we were made to notice nothing other than the gimmicky 3D effects, but mostly because the story was rote and didn’t lend itself as well to exploitation. With “Drive Angry,” the 3D is still gimmicky, but the story is so schlocky that it’s actually pretty engaging. Yes, it is possible for a film with naked girls, shootouts, explosions, and bloody stumps to be engaging, especially when you factor in vintage cars, stunt car chases, and even hell, that most unholy of all places. It all depends on whether or not the filmmakers are willing to go all out, to be completely uncompromising with their vision. This movie does not hold back. It hits the gas and doesn’t slow down for 104 minutes.
The story, as it were, is of John Milton (Cage), who has escaped from the depths of hell to take vengeance on the satanic cult that killed his daughter and plans to sacrifice his infant granddaughter. Along for the ride is Piper (Amber Heard), a down-home country girl from Texas who looks like a centerfold model and can handle a fistfight as well as any man. She also uses crude four-letter language as if being paid by the word. Hot on Milton’s trail is the Oklahoma police department, led by the cantankerous Cap (Tom Atkins), who doesn’t take kindly to cop killers. Also on Milton’s trail is an operative of the Devil, known only as The Accountant (William Fitchner), who wears a fine suit, seems to possess a dog’s sense of smell, and can at the flip of a coin produce a phony FBI badge.
The primary antagonist is the leader of the cult, Jonah King, a pious and evil man who uses the femur bone of Milton’s daughter as a handle on his cane. He’s played by Billy Burke, who after three Twilight films is finally allowed to let loose and ham it up, mostly with an exaggerated Southern accent. Anyone can overact, but when it’s done intentionally, it’s damn near impossible to do it well; not only did Burke convince me with his unconvincing performance, he also seemed to be having fun in the process, and when you’re making a movie like this, that surely counts for something. Watching him, I was reminded of Tony Todd’s performance in the horror film The Graves, which was surprisingly enjoyable in spite of its downright comical approach to the story and characters.
Much has been made of Nicholas Cage’s career as of late. With very few exceptions, including the tragically underrated sci-fi parable Knowing, his recent filmography has been defined by underwhelming efforts such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, G-Force, Ghost Rider, and this year’s Season of the Witch. He even worked in an appearance in the offensive Kick-Ass, where it was incorrectly assumed that a man who trained his preteen daughter to be a cold-blooded killer was funny. What separates Drive Angry from that film is that, although it is unrelentingly violent, it does not bring a child into the mix. What makes it better than his other bad movies is that it was clearly made that way on purpose; with its intrusive 3D effects, crackpot dialogue, ridiculous premise, scenes of gore, and exploitation of female anatomy, the film is pure B-movie schlock, and it makes no apologies for it. In its tastelessness, it becomes a paradox: A film Cage doesn’t have to be ashamed of being in.
In poking around on the internet, I’ve seen this movie get compared to other outrageous action yarns, including Shoot ‘Em Up and the Crank movies. The simple fact is, it isn’t as good as Shoot ‘Em Up, and the Crank movies are on an entirely different level – and are also, in their own strange and twisted ways, even more fantastic in premise than a dead man escaping from hell. But for everything it set out to be, Drive Angry 3D is freewheeling and fun. I probably would have liked it better, though, if I had been given more than just a few passing glances at hell. There are endless possibilities for the imagination here, and almost none of them were explored. I must say, I did appreciate The Accountant’s assertion that Satan is annoyed by people who sacrifice children in his name. That’s the kind of Devil I can be friends with.
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