Full-fledged, southern-fried grindhouse sleaze, Patrick Lussier’s Drive Angry knows exactly what it is and delivers all the violence, sex, action, and attitude that we could expect. It fails to deliver much in the way of story (plot exposition frequently stops the film dead in its tracks), but those in the mood for authentic 70s drive-in fare are likely to be more than satisfied; more discriminating audiences should stay far, far away.
Nicholas Cage stars as John Milton (more likely a reference to the Al Pacino character in The Devil’s Advocate than a nod to the English poet), a man who, opening narration informs us, has literally escaped from Hell to chase down the satanic cult responsible for murdering his daughter and kidnapping his infant granddaughter. As we first meet Milton, he solemnly blows away two cult members with a shotgun while telling another to “let ‘em know I’m coming.”
Further plot description is unnecessary; the setup is in place before the credits start, and the rest of the film is all about how Milton gets from point A to B and how many bodies he goes through to get there. Along the way, from Colorado to Louisiana, he meets Piper (Amber Heard), a small-town waitress with an attitude who inadvertently gets mixed up in all the bloodshed.
On Milton’s trail is a man who refers to himself as The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of the Devil who also serves as a Grim Reaper-like figure (“I’ll be seeing you in three months,” he tells one man, though he doesn’t bat an eye while planting a broken baseball bat through the skull of another).
In dealing with this immortal figure, Milton has an ace up his sleeve: the “Godkiller”, a God-killing shotgun with three very special rounds. How did Milton escape Hell with the Godkiller? “I picked it up and walked out,” he tells us. ‘Nuff said.
Drive Angry is a true grindhouse throwback, even more so than the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, which had some artistic aspirations. This has none. While wallowing in depravity, the film isn’t afraid to lop off limbs and heads and spray blood over the audience in three dimensions, and throw in copious amounts of T&A to boot.
The film’s most memorable scene features Milton blowing away baddies in the midst of a coital encounter, shot in loving slo-mo with every spatter of blood and bounce of breast carefully noted.
Cage, with flowing locks of golden hair and five-day stubble, is a gas to look at; his performance, however, is disappointingly bland and subdued as he plays it professionally cool. Fichtner finds the right tone and steals his scenes as The Accountant, even when the script forces him into a corner. Also effective is Billy Burke (Bella’s father in the Twilight films) as Jonah King, the creepy cult leader.
Ultimately, this film is indefensible trash; you have been warned. I cannot say it is good on any level, but it’s also very much the film Lussier had intended to make, and the film his audience expects to see.
Drive Angry was shot in 3D; I like how the advertisements emphasize that fact, subtly allaying fears that this is another 3D post-production conversion. In reality, the 3D adds next to nothing; it’s certainly used less effectively here than in Lussier’s previous film, My Bloody Valentine, though maybe the technology just seemed fresher back in 2008.
The novelty value worn away, I wonder what future awaits 3D cinema; it’s a sad fact that beyond James Cameron and Avatar, the most imaginative use of the technology was probably by Paul W. S. Anderson in Resident Evil: Afterlife.