Opening in 3D on Friday, February 25
Nicolas Cage as John Milton
Amber Heard as Piper
William Fichtner as The Accountant
Billy Burke as Jonah King
Tom Atkins as the Sheriff
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Halfway through Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer’s second collaboration together Drive Angry, it dawned on me: Hollywood usually doesn’t have the balls to make a movie like this these days. And I was pretty certain Lussier-Farmer used some sort of alchemy, that combined charm and whiskey, to convince the powers-that-be (Satan, perhaps?) to get Drive Angry made. Then again, who could turn a project like this down? Drive Angry is one hell of a ride that’s firing on all cylinders.
Early reports and previews stoked my expectations and led me to believe this film was some sort of amped up Race With the Devil spawn, but that’s only a slice of Drive Angry (and here, the Satanists actually drive the RV rather than chase one). Instead, Lussier and Farmer have created a modern day western. A prison break movie. An exploitation flick. A road trip tale by way of one gorgeous â69 Charger. A supernatural thriller. A black comedy. Drive Angry is Lussier and Farmer going full-tilt boogey, throwing bare flesh, explosions and gore at the screen with maniacal glee. If you thought My Bloody Valentine, Lussier-Farmer’s previous effort, had its fair share of eccentricities, wait until you get a load of the goons on display in this one.
Lead goon, Nicolas Cage, is John Milton (yes, a nod to the author of “Paradise Lost,” look buddy, subtlety is doing blow in the backroom of some bar in this film) one of the more subdued characters of Drive Angry‘s ensemble. He’s fresh out of hell, armed with a divine gun and hot on the trail of Jonah King, actor Billy Burke’s swaggering, no-nonsense cult leader who intends to sacrifice Milton’s granddaughter on the night of a full moon. Milton’s not alone in his journey of vengeance; Piper, a scorned waitress dragged into the mix, is played by Amber Heard and she’s full of piss and vinegar. If Heard is not propelled into the spotlight with this film, I don’t know what it’s going to take, she’s simply great in this. Equally fun is William Fichtner, co-starring as a dapper entity known only as The Accountant who is sent from hell to bring Milton back. Smarmy, confident with a tinge of Christopher Walken-esque weirdness, he’s basically the T-1000 of the film and also the guy who elicits some of the best laughs.
There are others who make up the cast that give Drive Angry added machismo and quirkiness. Genre vet Tom Atkins is always a welcome sight, barking orders whenever he’s on screen. David Morse is briefly used – and somewhere there’s a prequel waiting to happen featuring Morse’s character and Milton. Jack McGee, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Todd Farmer spice the picture up in their respective roles (the latter smartly writing himself in, once again, screwing a lovely lady) as total bastards and you love their presence.
As for the “ride” aspect of Drive Angry, Lussier keeps the pacing tight, adhering to the ticking clock element of the plot and speeding along on a constant stream of gunfights, fistfights, and snarky tough guy banter. This is a more confident Lussier at the helm and he orchestrates a few terrific car chase sequences and one incredibly amusing shoot out in a hotel room that involves Cage and a fully naked gal under attack by a group of men wielding an assort of weaponry. The 3D serves its purpose immersing the viewer in the world and it’s hardly distracting, although that’s not to say Lussier doesn’t have fun throwing things at your face.
Where things get a bit muddled is when the film slows down to probe Milton’s past; I left the film feeling he wasn’t fully explored, furthermore, I think Lussier and Farmer played their card a bit late in the story regarding a specific twist, especially after dolling out certain information regarding Milton’s abilities as someone fresh out of hell. (On a random note: I would have loved to have heard some more Southern classic rock, too.)
Still, nit-picky business in a film that’s not afraid to pull a few punches and have a blast wrangling all of the elements I’ve ever loved about certain movies and jamming them into one film. Some people might call it a an overload, I call this a goddamn party.