Theatrical Review: DRIVE ANGRY 3D
For its first half or so, DRIVE ANGRY 3D is what it has promised to be – a wonderfully unstoppable and gloriously unhinged film, gunning straight for your throat (or balls, or eye sockets, or knees, or whatever really). It goes full throttle from the starting line, hitting the asphalt, kicking the tires, peeling rubber, some other car-related metaphor here, and looks to be the giddy and gory ride we’re willing to pay today’s high gas prices for. But just as suddenly as I am about to stop with the horrible and lazy car-related metaphors, DRIVE ANGRY suddenly dies out, losing its edge to…emotion? Ew.
Nicolas Cage is John Milton. No, no, not that John Milton, you silly lit majors, you! But kudos to Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer for giving Cage such a veiled reference of a name. Paradise Lost! Big hit with the kids these days, real fun stuff. This John Milton isn’t just sitting around writing about Hell, he’s straight out of it. A badass who has busted out of the underworld to deal out some of his own punishments, Milton is back on Earth to avenge the death of his daughter and son-in-law by the crazy cult leader who has also stolen his baby granddaughter and is about to sacrifice her under the full moon. This will involve a lot of Milton driving angrily and snarling about things. He will also have to outrun the cops and a minion of the Devil sent to Earth to bring him back down under. Oh, but he does get to have a partner in crime that looks so good in cut-off shorts that it should be, you guessed it, a holy sin.
But despite every chance in the world here, Cage is not at his batshit best – which is a tragedy, because DRIVE ANGRY is the perfect venue for him to throw together bits of his more classically nutso roles to great effect. DRIVE ANGRY needs much more BAD LIEUTENANT, more CON AIR, even some FACE-OFF. Give me scenery-chewing. Chew it until it bleeds. Even in one of the film’s best (and most inventive and most insane) fight scenes, Cage manages to come across as strangely disconnected. If you can look distant in a scene that involves equal parts (pardon my French) fucking and fighting, you’ve really checked out of the film, and Cage seems to have left his room key on the nightstand and skipped town on this one.
Luckily enough, Cage is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that appears to have had a damn good time making this film. As the evil Jonah King, Billy Burke handily wrangles his cult of broken-toothed white trash followers, all of them looking like some combination of meth head and Elvis impersonator. Burke seems to delight in breaking out of his TWILIGHT role as “Bella’s dad,” prancing around like Neil Diamond as eaten by Charles Manson. Amber Heard oozes sex appeal – hell, just plain sex – as Piper. However, within her first ten minutes on screen, it’s clear that Piper is just as tough as she is sexy, throwing punches that you don’t need the 3D to feel in your own teeth. It’s no wonder Milton picks her to ride with him – when the devil comes knocking on your door, Piper’s the kind of lady who will tell him to keep it down, she’s busy in there.
But the very best of DRIVE ANGRY is in William Fichtner’s work– equal parts gleeful and focused, he somehow manages to be the film’s biggest badass, despite not even being the character who gets shot in the eye, or the one who gets beaten up with someone’s femur. He does not even drive particularly angrily. The Accountant’s strength is in his laser gaze (a beam we can assume is red), leveled on whoever he needs in that moment, ends justifying means, no such thing as collateral damage because even that would imply he gives a flying youknowwhat.
Despite its fast and furious start, the film starts to stall out when Milton’s motives and past are revealed. Nothing in DRIVE ANGRY should be heavy-handed, but trying to ascribe moral values and familial vengeance to Milton’s quest weighs down the enterprise considerably. We’re mired in bad flashbacks and cheesy lines about loyalty and why Milton is fighting, when all we care about is seeing that damn fighting. Yeah, sure, you’re back on Earth to wreak some havoc and kill some people, we’re all in. You don’t need to stand over a trash can fire looking pensive to remind us you’re from Hell – you need to beat the snot out of people and you can consider the message delivered.
On the surface, DRIVE ANGRY has an incredible amount of appeal for people looking to see, and forgive me this, a ball-busting thrill ride, or at least about half of one. When it works, it's a devilish mish-mash of violence, car porn, and exploitation, literally thrown in the audience's face (thanks to 3D, which continues to be nothing but a nonessential gimmick, even in a film where it should be a large part of our enjoyment). But DRIVE ANGRY runs too long with too little gas in the tank, and it's impossible to sustain its "so bad it's good" aims with a lead who seems too bored to even turn the key in the ignition, let alone to put his foot on the gas.