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Daily Archives: March 3, 2011
When “Drive Angry” starts — full of sweaty, swearing, spitting, sex-starved Southerners — it’s easy to think that Patrick Lussier‘s Satanism-and-salvation exploitation flick will be full of grisly guts and grindhouse goofiness. After some initial shooting and killing, our badass anti-hero Milton (Nicolas Cage) extracts information from a randy diner waitress before kissing her roughly and reiterating his demand for black coffee with sugar into her trembling mouth. Another waitress from the same diner, Piper (Amber Heard), quits in a huff and rushes out, striding towards a ’69 Charger in a pair of Daisy Dukes offset by cowboy boots while Peaches’ single “F— the Pain Away” booms and blares on the soundtrack. It is hard to imagine “Drive Angry” sustaining this level of trash-tastic hysterical hokum, and I regret to inform you that it does not, even with all of the above in 3-D.
Cage plays John Milton — yuk it up, English majors — a man on a quest to save his granddaughter from the band of Southern Satanists who killed her mom and intend to sacrifice the little tyke in three days to bring about hell on Earth. Led by Billy Burke, clad in Neil Diamond sideburns and swagger, the cult tries to keep Milton from his mission. Milton’s also being chased by The Accountant (William Fichtner, proving that even bargain-basement Walken is treasure beyond measure with his witchy, twitchy work), who is determined to get Milton back to the place he escaped from … HELL ITSELF, Dunh Dunh Dunh.
But “Drive Angry,” susceptible as it is to automotive metaphors, runs out of gas. It’s a remarkably long 106 minutes, when a leaner, cleaner running time might have made the film’s sickness feel more like a raging fever and less like a lingering malaise. And it wants to be sick: There’s blood, ball-busting and beatings aplenty, with Cage shooting a group of assailants not, in the familiar action-film cliché, post-coitally but, rather, in a twisted new twist, mid-coitally. Lussier dishes out gore, blood, breasts and bullets like he brought them in bulk to hurl off the screen. The action plays out like an insane version of a Road Runner-Coyote cartoon, or a Southern-fried swamp boogie version of “Terminator 2,” with two unstoppable forces moving toward a child in the name of their mission. (Both Milton and The Accountant are kinda-sorta invulnerable, which ratchets up the spectacle even as it dials down the tension.)
The action is also undercut somewhat by Cage, whose mood seems more ambivalent than anything else. (Clive Owen, in the similar — and similarly disappointing — steroidal action film “Shoot ‘Em Up” at least did a better job of maintaining a Gonzo intensity that Cage can’t quite find here.) The movie also slows down near its end to convey Milton’s torment and emotions, a pause for nobility as welcome as someone shoving a multivitamin on you in the later courses of a barbeque buffet. More damaging is the realization that while Lussier may have a financially successful track record making 3-D movies (including “My Bloody Valentine“), you can tell he doesn’t have an artistically successful track record making movies of any kind. Much of this leaps and bucks off the screen thanks to the “miracle” of 3-D, but the film around those snappy illusions is dim, washed-out and ugly. The film’s posters crow how it was “Shot in 3D” — presumably for the clarification of the discerning cineaste who wants to see Nicolas Cage shoot someone while he’s screwing someone else in 3-D, but not if it was converted to 3-D in post-production — but, watching the film’s crowded, dreary scenes, you’re more inclined to wonder if it was shot at all.
Heard’s hellcat and Fichtner’s infernal bureaucrat are both easy to watch — so much so that you wish there were a better movie around them. But the thick, lustrous gloss of depravity over this movie’s tired bones gets thin over time, and when you consider that he’s supposed to be on a revved-up rampage of revenge, Cage feels curiously stuck in neutral. Brandishing enchanted instruments and mortal weapons, John Milton’s supposed to be a fearsome avenger with his pedal to the metal. Cage has been down this road so many times before, though, that we can feel “Drive Angry” coasting when we — with no small amount of guilt, and no small amount of frustration — wish it had maintained the courage of its first flush of perverse convictions and just stayed in the red.