Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Don't Worry, DRIVE ANGRY ...!


- In my recent review of Unknown, I lamented the fact that 2011 had yet to produce a signature, awesomely-over-the-top B-movie. I mean, it's tradition - typically, we get at least one glorious slice of grindhouse pulp in the early months of the year, as the studios change course from winter prestige pics and slowly rev up for summertime blockbusters. Well, one movie has answered the call, and that movie is DRIVE ANGRY. A ridiculous, hilarious, and unabashedly insane film in the grand postmodern exploitation tradition of Machete and Planet Terror, Drive Angry is pure, balls-to-the-wall trash - and I mean that in the best way possible.

One thing that's telling about Drive Angry - it features Nicholas Cage in full-on crazy mode. Now, we all know that Cage is a, well, unique sort of actor. There are times when he's cast in a "serious' movie, and his inherent strangeness makes it hard to take things, you know, seriously. Other times, his semi-unintentional, over-the-top style is the one entertaining aspect of an otherwise awful movie. Wicker Man, anyone? And then, there are those glorious moments where Nicholas Cage gets to act completely insane in a movie that's also completely insane. Werner Herzog's recent remake Bad Lieutenant was perhaps the best example of such a phenomenon ... until now. Yep, Drive Angry is that perfect Cage vehicle that plays to the fact that Cage - in his attempts to be badass despite looking like a homeless farmer - is actually hilarious. And so what we have here is a movie that wants you to laugh and smile along with Cage's pseudo-action-hero antics. This is a movie with dialogue so nonsensical and over the top that you have to laugh. This is a movie where an evil cult leader carries around the femur bone of Nicholas Cage's daughter - whom he murdered - an uses it as a vanity cane. This is a movie where Cage drinks a beer from the skull of his fallen enemy. Where the body count is high. Where the outfit on female lead Amber Heard is perpetually skimpy. Yes folks, this is old-school B-movie action/exploitation, and if this sort of thing floats your boat, then you should run out and go see it while this movie is still in theaters.

The plot is simple: Cage is John Milton, a former convict who, after dying, was sentanced to a lifetime of eternal damnation in the fiery pits of hell. However, when Cage's undead soul gets word that, back on earth, his daughter was murdered by an evil cult leader, and her baby stolen, Cage is so PO'd that he drives straight outta hell back to earth, with sweet revenge on his mind. While Cage tracks down the nefarious cult leader and his missing granddaughter - with the help of a hot, trailer-trash waitress who he picks up along the way - a minion of Hell known as The Accountant has been dispatched to find Cage and bring him back to the underworld. Yes, this movie is insane. I never said otherwise.

Cage is Cage, delivering the most absurd lines the movie can throw at him with absolutely zero hint of ironic detachment. It's awesome and funny as hell. Meanwhile, if you are a fan of badass actors, then you are probably a fan of the great William Fichtner. You may know him from many small roles in movies like Heat and The Dark Knight, or from his awesome turn as a rogue FBI agent on TV's Prison Break. Fichtner is the man, and he is once again the man here as the dapperly-dressed hellspawn known as The Accountant. Fichtner delivers all of his lines with icy-cool gravitas, and is both badass and very funny. It's great to see him in such a substantial and fun role. A bigger surprise though is Amber Heard. More than just a pretty face, the up-and-coming actress actually does a remarkably solid job in this one. She's totally game for all of the action that's demanded of her, and seems a natural at kicking ass and taking names. She also seems quite adept at adapting to the movie's B-movie stylings, delivering her dialogue with a near-perfect mix of commitment and self-seriousness, as well as self-aware campiness. After her strong performance in Drive Angry, I definitely wouldn't mind seeing more of Amber Heard (ahem ... in action movies, I mean).

There are a number of great character actor types who are peppered throughout the movie as well. A real scene stealer is Tom Atkins, as a howlin', shotgun-toting police captain. David Morse is also great as an old friend and associate of Cage's. Finally, Katy Mixon, who was so good on Eastbound & Down as Kenny Powers' one true love, is similarly funny here as a lusty waitress who shares an intimate moment or two with Cage. The only real weakpoint is Billy Burke as cult leader Jonah King. He's overshadowed by Fichtner in terms of scene-stealing villainy, and doesn't make quite as much of an impression as he should.

On a sidenote, Drive Angry was shot in 3D, and it looks very good as compared to the typical movie that receives as rushed post-conversion to three dimensions. Rather than shy away from over-the-top 3D f/x, director Patrick Lussier has bullets and explosions and body parts fly right at your face, making for a very visceral experience to say the least. Now, some of the action scenes aren't always jaw-dropping, and some lack the mind-blowing insanity of similar fare like, say, Shoot 'Em Up (one scene in particular in Drive Angry - you'll know the one I mean - seems to pay homage to that Clive Owen-starring pic). But, Drive Angry does have many a mean car chase, complete with vintage 70's-era muscle cars, making for some truly explosive metal-on-metal action.

I guess I'd also say that this is a movie that comes at you nonstop at 100 mph. Sometimes, it's hilarious and entertaining. But there are sections where the movie tends to drag a bit, and sometimes the dialogue feels more flat than funny. And yet, just when you start to lose interest and your mind begins to wander, something so crazy and weird happens that you can't help but look at your friends in shock and awe. The movie isn't as sharply shot or written as, say, Machete - but its sleazy, shlocky vibe is nonetheless admirable.

DRIVE ANGRY is by no means a *great* film, but it's entertaining as hell ... no pun intended. If you're in the mood to see a B-movie grindhouse flick with Nicholas Cage at his most insane, William Fichtner being awesome, and Amber Heard in cutoff jean shorts, well, what are you waiting for, get drivin' to see Drive Angry.

My Grade: B+

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