Nicholas Cage as John Milton
Amber Heard as Piper
William Fichtner as The Accountant
Billy Burke as Jonah King
David Morse as Webster
Todd Farmer as Frank
Christa Campbell as Mona
Charlotte Ross as Candy
Tom Atkins as Cap
Jack McGee as Fat Lou
Katy Mixon as Norma Jean
So what exactly does the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’ mean? First of all the film in question has to be just unquestionably bad; not so much a matter of taste as a matter of eyesight. Ludicrous, hard-to-take plot elements are a must, overdone dialogue (not necessarily explicative filled, but it helps), and characterization replaced by machismo. Also a lot of either unnecessary sex or unnecessary violence, and preferably both.
“Drive Angry” checks, checks and double-checks all of those boxes.
Like the films opening narration tells us, there are a lot of bad guys out there, guys who think because they’re so bad no one is up to getting in their way and stopping them doing whatever they want. Guys like Satanic cult leader Jonah King (“Twilight’s” Billy Burke), who’s willing to sacrifice a baby in order to bring himself eternal power. But, we’re also told, those guys are wrong, that that level of arrogance and inhumanity has consequences. Consequences like the baby’s dead grandfather (Nicolas Cage) getting so mad he escapes from Hell just to hunt King down and save his last living family member. And if he has to commit a lot of sex and violence to do so, so much the better. In fact they might as well have renamed it “Sex & Violence.”
That’s the bad move requirements sorted, but how do you get from there to being good.
First of all, you can’t take yourself seriously. Once you’ve committed yourself to making a bad movie (and recognized it) any attempt to mitigate the damage through attempts at characterization or back-story will merely make glaring deficiencies more obvious, suggesting that rather than the filmmaker intentionally choosing to go down that road he/she actually thinks they’re telling a good (or even passable) story. Long in-depth discussions about the film’s made up mythology are sure signs of this problem, as are putting all of a character’s motivation and back-story into one scene somewhere in the middle.
No, this is a genre that has no time or patience with quality and only understands that more is more. You’ve got to put your foot on the throttle and just go full bore, the more over the top the better. Show no fear, or remorse; know what you are and embrace. It’s a more subtle distinction than it may sound. The result is the difference between “Catwoman” and “Hell Comes to Frog Town;” between a classic (of sorts) and a warning to others.
Where does “Drive Angry” fit into that?
It’s hard to say. It’s definitely got the over the top part down cold. When your main character doesn’t bother to stop having sex with the waitress he’s picked up, or drop his whiskey bottle in order to shoot a bunch of cult members, no one’s obviously worrying about quality control.
The gleeful way in which professional schlock purveyor Patrick Lussier (“Dracula 2000,” “My Bloody Valentine 3D”) intends for this to be watched for thrills is another clue. From the slow eye-candy pans over its panoply of classic muscle cars to its similar treatment to its various, mostly unclothed, actresses starting with feisty waitress Piper (Amber Heard), it’s obviously a movie for guys to watch and nothing more and it makes the most of that fact. Heard is especially telling on the ‘so good’ side of the equation as the literally unbelievable 12-year-old boys idea of what a girl should be – peeling out in muscle cars, looking for guys to pick up and answering every challenge with a punch to the face.
But is it good? It’s hard to say. Part of the requirement is an unheard of level of machismo replacing all known forms of human emotion. It is something which “Drive Angry” certainly attempts and while it works coming from Burke’s crazed, rock star wannabe cult leader, or even the waitress, it seems less likely coming from Cage’s doughy, middle-aged face and droning monotone. Especially when combined with a horrible blonde wig.
He’s balanced out by William Fichtner as the cool as ice Accountant, the agent of Satan sent to bring Milton back, who shrugs off everything, even having his car knocked off a bridge. Fichtner is so hilariously straight he obviously knows what kind of movie he’s in.
But is it the movie he thinks? Is “Drive Angry” a Joe Bob Briggs masterpiece in the making? The giant gun that kills gods and the human skull beer mug say yes; Cage’s muddled presence says maybe.
I don’t know if I’d pay to see it in a theater, except maybe for the car chases (one of the few real world sequences I’ve seen which 3D truly did enhance). I don’t know if I’d rent it, even for a dollar. But if it came on HBO, and I was already paying for that channel, I’d probably watch it.