Drive Angry‘s writer-director Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer were at no point deluded into believing they were creating high cinematic art with this exploitative action flick. Rather, the duo were completely aware that they were making a batshit insane actioner, and they knew how to play to their niche audience of gore hounds and explosion seekers. Thus, Drive Angry 3D‘s appeal is similar to that of Machete or Piranha 3D – it was produced to allow viewers to bask in the glory of giddy ludicrousness. More or less a live-action comic book and a throwback to a bygone era of grindhouse cinema, Drive Angry shifts into fifth gear in its early stages and keeps piling on the revs to sustain its high speed. It’s the movie that Quentin Tarantino’s disappointing Death Proof could’ve been if only it had the balls to fully embrace the pedigree it aspired to achieve. Critically analysing or thinking about Drive Angry is the wrong was to approach this production – you have to just watch and enjoy it for what it is.
The deceased John Milton (Cage) recently escaped from the maximum security prison known as Hell and has a grave score to settle. With his daughter murdered and his granddaughter kidnapped, John races across the American South in pursuit of the man responsible: Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Burke), who kidnapped the infant with the intention of ritualistically sacrificing her. As luck would have it, John stumbles upon smokin’ hot, feisty waitress Piper (Heard) who has nothing to lose, a useful pair of fists and a beautiful American muscle car. Together, the two of them pursue Jonah and his cult, while a mysterious demonic minion known as The Accountant (Fichtner) remains hot on their tail.
Despite the demonic undercurrents, Drive Angry is not scary, the villains are not overly menacing, and it never seems like the protagonists are in genuine danger. The fact that John Milton is already dead and therefore immortal only lessens the sense of peril. There aren’t many surprises in who dies and lives, and this is in no way a cerebral experience. Luckily, though, the film for the most part gets it right in terms of playful fun. Free of any morality or anything approaching thematic content, Drive Angry emphasises fast driving and butt-kicking. The pacing is usually brisk, the violence is frequent, and tongue-in-cheek humour is plentiful without it overwhelming the material. Even the plot barely matters and is sorely underwritten, since it just exists as a means to get the insanely hot Amber Heard in the same car as Nic Cage so they can fill the screen with as much sexiness, noise and gore as the MPAA allowed the filmmakers to get away with.
Director Patrick Lussier began his career as editor extraordinaire, with such credits as Red Eye and the initial Scream trilogy against his name. Drive Angry is Lussier’s second 3-D film, having made the My Bloody Valentine 3D remake in 2009. Here, Lussier was completely willing to have cheesy fun with the 3-D effects and throw things at the audience (which look peculiar in 2-D). While the best 3-D is unobtrusive 3-D, these tricks at least make the gimmick more fun. However, a major flaw of Drive Angry is the use of woefully obvious digital effects which are at times distracting and therefore out-of-place in a film representing a throwback to a cinematic era before the advent of CGI. Another drawback is that the film’s final third is not quite as lively as everything which preceded it. Plus, there’s the constant threat of an infant who’s about to be executed, which is inappropriate for a film like this because you can’t laugh along with it. Also, unlike Machete or Planet Terror, Drive Angry is just a fun time – nothing memorable or lasting. Don’t expect to remember it a few hours after you watch it.
Nicolas Cage is no stranger to taking roles in terrible movies, and he’s particularly wooden here as John Milton; growling his lines with only the barest of conviction. But he is at least mildly fun in the role. The star has become a bit of a joke due to all the recent bad films on his résumé, but by starring in films like Kick-Ass and Drive Angry it’s like Cage is making fun of the fact he has become a joke. Meanwhile, Amber Heard makes for a capable action heroine, and she was allowed to kick some serious ass. And then there’s William Fichtner, who clearly had an absolute ball with his role. His dry delivery and utter nonchalance in the most absurd of situations generates a great deal of welcome humour. Rounding out the cast is the suitably hammy Billy Burke as Jonah King, and a curiously underused David Morse whose acting gravitas is welcome in such a B-grade action fare.
Drive Angry 3D delivers all the elements that its target audience yearns for. You want mindless nudity and sex? Do you want gratuitous gore? You feel like seeing a slow-motion gunfight during a sex scene? Well, Drive Angry has all of the above, so have at it! This is not a good film, but it never strives to be. C’mon, this is a story about a zombified father escaping from Hell to wreak havoc on some scumbags. If you’re in the right mood, Drive Angry is a blast.