Drive Angry (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-02-26 04:45

Written by: Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier
Directed by: Patrick Lussier

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, and William Fichtner

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“Fuckin’ devil worshippers freak me the fuck out. Messin’ around with powers they shouldn’t be. Turns my shit white.”

In addition creating some colorful (or not so colorful) bowel movements, it would seem that devil worshippers are also able to conjure up a fun time at the movies. That is, as long as they’re under the watchful eye of Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, the two guys who brought us some heart-stopping slasher mayhem with My Bloody Valentine 3D two years ago. The demented duo is back, and this time they’re raising a little hell with the grindhouse-inspired Drive Angry, a road movie/shoot-em-up that aims for the cheapest thrills this side of the drive-in. And, in true drive-in fashion, it's not merely content to hit this mark; indeed, it desires to completely blow it away in a hail of gunfire.

John Milton (no, not the blind author of Paradise Lost, though that’d certainly make for some interesting gunplay) is tracking a Satanic cult across the country because they’ve taken his newborn granddaughter, and they intend to sacrifice her to usher in the apocalypse. Along the way, Milton meets up with a badass waitress (Amber Heard) who happens to also have an even more badass ride. Together, the unlikely duo pursue the cult while also dodging local authorities and a mysterious man known only as “The Accountant” (Fichtner).

Despite the ornery sounding title, Drive Angry is far from cantankerous; instead, it’s a silly, over-the-top movie that announces its drive-in ambitions early and often, and it rarely lets its foot off the pedal. Our protagonist is literally introduced as a “badass motherfucker,” and he proceeds to do what badass motherfuckers do in movies like these: pump bullets into bad guys and thrust his manhood into gorgeous women (with both happening at the same time at one point). In between all the shooting (of bullets and loads) are some cool car chases with spectacular stunts and effects work that satisfy action junkies. Though these sequences don’t quite get as inventive as some of the more outrageous scenes in something like Machete, they’re effective all the same, as bullets, debris, and body parts fly everywhere.

All signs point to “big dumb action movie,” which is mostly right; however, I hesitate to call it dumb, as it’s obviously self-aware and knows what it is, and goes to great lengths to embrace it. Plus, the film is genuinely funny--though there are some clunkers here and there, the dialogue is often sharp and witty. There’s requisite action movie one-liners, but there’s also some clever banter between characters that make this one just as funny as it is insane. And it is quite demented; though it’s an action movie at heart, there’s a mean streak--various murders, impalements, and, yes, demonic rituals await. We even get a glimpse of hell, which also seems to be suffering from urban decay these days.

Lussier and Farmer’s greatest asset is their ability to put together a fun cast. It’d be easy to say the most horrific thing about Drive Angry is Nic Cage acting right up in your face, but that’s not quite the case. The recently much-maligned leading man is subdued and plays the part of the weary traveler well here. The standout of the bunch is Fichtner as the mysterious antagonist; he’s suave, charismatic, and reserved, with some killer line deliveries that highlight his character’s morbid sense of black humor. Having mostly been used in supporting roles throughout his career, I was happy to see someone give him a shot at a role like this; his character is so interesting that I’d watch a spin-off devoted to him. And if you think Amber Heard can’t hang with the boys, think again--she’s sassy and feisty enough to slide right into that passenger seat. Other familiar faces punctuate the cast--Billy Burke is the slimy, evangelical cult leader, David Morse shows up as an old ally of Milton’s, and Tom Atkins even drops in (as a cop, of course).

For all the gun and car porn strewn throughout the film, these characters to manage to make an impression and you’re left strangely invested in most of them by the end. That’s a credit to Lussier to find the heart at the middle of all the madness, though he handles the madness just as well. Though the subject matter is essentially low-budget fare (and it indeed began with such intentions), the production is anything but that, with lavish effects work and a professional polish that makes for a well-directed experience, with some tightly constructed and suspenseful action sequences that also feature some dynamic camera work. It’s practically the same approach Tarantino and Rodriguez took with Grindhouse in that Lussier and crew are trying to both embrace low budget exploitation while also attempting to make the best exploitation movie they possibly can.

Don’t call it classy though because it’s certainly anything but that. Let’s just say that the grindhouse is thoroughly embraced between the ridiculous action sequences, splattery gore, and all the sex. If a Grindhouse sequel had ever been made, Drive Angry could have parked itself in a spot on the twin bill; it feels a bit long and stalls a bit at the beginning of the third act, but it’s mostly one hell of a good time. It’s made all the better when seen in its native 3D format, where you’ll have all the chaos hurled at you; yes, it’s kind of gimmicky, but it’s all part of the fun of blowing away that fourth wall and reminding the audience why they should see movies like this in the first place: because it’s fun to see people shoot, fuck, and run--and maybe not always in that order. Drive swiftly to your local theater, and when this one speeds onto store shelves, Buy it!

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