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Movie Review: Drive Angry (R)


By: Roxana Hadadi

Robert Rodriguez kind of had it all in last year’s “Machete” – the director packed big guns, shiny cars, gallons of entrails and beautiful (and quite often naked) women into his sensationalistic, B-movie extravaganza, and somehow slipped a pro-immigration lesson in there, too. Director Patrick Lussier’s “Drive Angry,” this year’s first foray into that blood-drenched, nudity-loving genre, lacks Rodriguez’s political message and instead slips in a laughable religious one. Otherwise, though, the films are unbelievably similar, both terrible in the best of ways.

How could “Drive Angry” – which is shot in 3-D by Lussier, who also helmed 2009’s “My Bloody Valentine 3D” – not be awful-good when it stars Nicolas Cage, who now only seems to take totally crazy roles he can deadpan and smirk his way through? Cage has already starred in another strangely Christian-themed action flick so far this year, “Season of the Witch,” and that shares a lot of elements with “Drive Angry,” too – Cage as a father figure to a wayward girl, Cage dealing with shadowy religious beliefs, Cage on the warpath and taking names, Cage, Cage, Cage. Cage’s worst enemy is himself, but somehow with “Drive Angry” he manages to channel his own absurdity into making his flat, one-dimensional character unintentionally, undeniably hilarious.

So, let’s be clear: This is bad-movie good, not good-movie good. No amount of fixing this movie could make it good-movie good, but if you’re an adult older than 17 willing to get the kids a babysitter so you can wear some 3-D glasses and giggle as dismembered limbs fly toward your face, go for it.

Here’s the gist: Milton (Cage) is a man intent on only one thing: tracking down Jonah King (Billy Burke), the leader of a Satan-worshipping religious cult who has kidnapped his granddaughter. Believing the granddaughter possesses some kind of supernatural power or significance, King and his group of farm tool-toting cronies have decided to sacrifice her on the night of the next full moon, hoping that their offering will encourage Satan to bring Hell to earth. That sounds murky because it is murky; the film doesn’t really concentrate on why King and co. think that’s a good idea, except for their belief that they’ll somehow help rule earth when Satan comes calling. I’m pretty sure the dude doesn’t share power, but whatever.

This doesn’t sit with Milton, so he desperately tries to find King, who killed his daughter before kidnapping his granddaughter. After spotting a snazzy-looking old-school Dodge Charger in the parking lot of a sleazy diner, Milton befriends its owner, Piper (Amber Heard), an achingly beautiful long-legged blonde who can’t seem to get her life right. Sexually molested by her boss at work and abused by her fiancé at home, Piper can throw a punch at anyone but doesn’t really know where she’s going. Enter Milton, who rescues her from the trashy ex by beating the hell out of him and racing away in the Charger. Reluctant to give her any details about why he’s after King, Milton nevertheless recruits her into his quest, which has them chasing the cult leader from Colorado to Louisiana before the night of the full moon.

It would be too easy to have Milton and Piper chase King, though, so they’re being trailed by The Accountant (William Fichtner), a smooth-talking guy in a nice suit who can seemingly slow down time and bend others to his will. Masquerading as an FBI agent, The Accountant uses a keen sense of smell to trail Milton – kind of like Agent Smith from “The Matrix” trilogy, he just always seems to show up. Whether his pursuit of Milton and Piper will curse them or benefit them, however, is just another one of the film’s twists.

Yes, I said “twists.” Shockingly enough, “Drive Angry” manages to fit a few surprises into its 105-minute runtime, despite a profound lack of character development. The characters are so silly it’s funny – we know King worships Satan because he drinks blood, grows his nails long, wears lots of rings and sports velvet jackets and unbuttoned shirts (kind of like a vampire version of Elvis Presley), and it’s obvious that the small-town cops are corrupt guys who are only out for blood – so don’t expect any nuances or subtleties. Instead, the whole film deals only with stereotypes (didn’t you know every Southerner is ignorant, misogynistic, violent and illiterate?), and the characters fit easily into those molds. It’s even hard sometimes to tell the bad guys and good guys apart, since they both kill women, cops and a whole lot of other people to get what they want. Just watch for Cage’s ratty-looking wig to know who to root for.

Nevertheless, Cage and Fichtner work perfectly together. The former is great as Milton, a man who can’t be delayed by his mission but won’t stop smoking his cigar, drinking his whiskey, wearing his sunglasses or having sex with a woman (all done simultaneously!) while involved in a gunfight. It’s the same old expressionless Cage we should be used to by now, but here it works. And Fichtner is a welcome delight as The Accountant, a character so blasé about his immorality and sense of rigid purpose that you’ll inevitably end up hoping for him to be in the next scene. Every time he smirks, raises an eyebrow or spits a snarky comment, the film gets that much more enjoyable.

And in its own trashy way, “Drive Angry” is hilarious fodder for people who appreciate the B-movie experience. There is so much inappropriate content for teenagers here – incredible amounts of sex (you see a lot of nude breasts and behinds), horrible gore that’s made worse by 3-D (like baseball bats through people’s eyes and a woman exploding after being struck by a speeding car), numerous scenes of abuse toward women (including relationship violence, threats of rape, fistfights, etc.), lots of cursing, discussion of sacrificing babies, drug and alcohol use, killing people, etc. – that the R rating really stands. Unless you have the most mature teenager on the planet, it’s all overwhelming, especially as the film nears its cacophonous conclusion. Parents who remember the B-movie heyday of the ’70s and ’80s are a far-more-fitting audience than anyone under 17; don’t let your kids tell you otherwise.

Much like “Machete” last year, “Drive Angry” is enjoyable in the right mindset, if you’re craving some goofy Cage or looking to laugh at the wackiness of 3-D gore. The religious suggestions, of living your life purposefully and protecting your family, are the trite kinds of things that will make your eyes roll, but Cage and Fichtner are more than redeeming. If “Drive Angry” somehow gets a sequel, I’m rooting for them.

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