Friday, 4 March 2011

Review - 'Drive Angry'

His name is Milton and, as the opening monologue informs us, he is a badass motherfucker. He's staged a jailbreak of some kind, and he's out for some serious payback. Shortly he crosses paths with Piper, a gorgeous young waitress who owns a souped-up vintage muscle car and, it soon transpires, also happens to be quite the badass motherfucker herself. Soon enough Piper agrees to give Milton a ride to the place he needs to go to get his revenge, and save his newborn granddaughter from the same fate as his murdered daughter. But as weird as things may seem to be at first, they will soon reveal themselves to be a whole lot weirder; for Milton isn't just any old condemned man, and he didn't bust out of just any old prison...

Yep; you know it. They came out and said it in the trailer, and there's a clue in our (anti-) hero's name. John Milton has broken out of Hell itself, and he won't go back until he's sent a great many more bad people there to keep him company.

As I write this, Drive Angry is disappearing from most UK cinemas, having failed to break the top 10 during its first week of release. I gather it's not doing great business in the US either. After the notable underperformance of The Sorceror's Apprentice and Season of the Witch, this surely doesn't bode too well for Nicolas Cage, once very much a bankable leading man. Are audiences losing interest in him? Perhaps. Also a distinct possibility is that audiences are losing interest in 3D; what with seemingly every other blockbuster since Avatar being released in the format, a great many are getting fed up with paying more money for the sake of something which adds almost nothing to the cinema experience. (Hell, I didn't even realise until after posting my review of The Green Hornet that I'd failed to make any reference to its use of 3D; a dreadful oversight on my part, I admit, but also indicative of just how little impact the format has.)

So given this popular indifference, Drive Angry must be nothing to write home about, right? Surely there's no inherent entertainment value to a film that features roaring muscle cars, blood-spattered gunfights, indestructible demonic entities, psycho devil worshippers, ample gratuitous nudity, a screeching guitar-fuelled soundtrack, and an achingly sexy leading lady in a pair of butt-hugging denim short-shorts...? None of that sounds like fun, does it...?

Yep; you know it. Drive Angry is almost certainly the best time I've had at the movies so far in 2011. Chalk another one up to the general public having shit for brains. (Incidentally, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son is enjoying its second week in the top ten at the time of writing.)

I would assume that writer Todd Farmer and co-writer/director Patrick Lussier have taken much inspiration from the Satanic Panic movies of yesteryear of which I have heard tell but, alas, not yet seen myself: movies like The Devil's Rain and Race With The Devil, which I understand combine car chase action and devil-worshipping cults. (Mental note made to make a point of tracking said movies down.) What I can say for sure is that they have made a film very much in the same spirit of Robert Rodriguez at his best; a trashy, sleazy, old-school cool affair that reeks of the southern states. It may not achieve that sense of swagger quite as effortlessly as Desperado or From Dusk Till Dawn, but it's got a similar sense of humour and style, and follows the same ethos of playing everything to excess.

Perhaps surprisingly given the title, there isn't so great an emphasis on car chases as you might expect. It's a road movie for sure, but the bulk of the action occurs on the pitstops taken along the way; showdowns in a road house motel, a church, and others besides. So it ain't no Mad Max or The Driver; no biggie. In many ways, Drive Angry really does feel unlike any other movie; it draws on a disparate enough range of B-movie materials that it winds up tasting like a whole new recipe for trash cinema.

Not unlike Clive Owen in Shoot 'Em Up (whose shoot-out sex scene is duplicated here, arguably to greater effect), Cage plays things largely laconic as Milton. It's not a million miles away from his performance in Con Air; the kind of off-the-wall action hero stuff he can do in his sleep. As such, honestly, Cage is pretty much the least interesting thing on screen here. And maybe it's just me, but with all the moments of people remarking they thought he was dead, I couldn't help but imagine how Kurt Russell would have been in the role...

It's the supporting cast who really steal the show. Amber Heard, as we've established, is sexy as hell (pun intended, naturally), but above and beyond that she's also a perfect fit for the role of Piper, able to effectively convey both her sensitivity and toughness; when she says "I'm gonna fuck you up," you believe her. I'm now officially sold on the idea of her playing Red Sonja (though I'd still sooner it was Christina Hendricks, of course). Also cool is Billy Burke (pictured right), an actor I've hitherto been unfamiliar with, who takes the role of megalomaniac cult leader Jonah King. With his sleazy southern drawl and imposing presence, he comes off like a younger Tommy Lee Jones. It's a sweet bad guy performance that, under different circumstances, just might have stolen the show.

Alas, Burke never had a hope in hell (I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear), as one man walks clean away with the entire movie without even breaking a sweat. That man is William Fichtner as the Accountant (pictured below). An enigmatic figure pursuing our heroes - not unlike Jason Bateman in Paul, a movie which, curiously, has quite a lot in common with this plot-wise - his quirky blend of an utterly straight, square demeanour and occasional outbursts of effortless profanity and ultraviolence is utterly enthralling and hilarious from start to finish. He does a little trick with a coin that's reminscent of Doctor Who's psychic paper; seems kind of appropriate, as he's almost like an evil Doctor, an all-knowing all-seeing figure who revels in his superiority and sees no reason to behave like ordinary people. Fichtner takes what might have been an underwhelming supporting role and makes it the most captivating thing in the whole damn movie. Bravo.

Is the whole enterprise a bit contrived? Overblown? Overloaded? No doubt about it. But I don't see that as a problem at all. Much like Piranha 3D, this is a film that takes a ludicrous premise and sets out to wring it for as much juvenile, non-family friendly fun as possible, with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek throughout. There's an infectious, joyful spirit at play here that was sadly lacking from Lussier and Farmer's last venture, My Bloody Valentine. After that film I had little-to-no interest in what those guys did next; now, I'm confident that they've got plenty more great movies like this in them. None of which, however, does anything to change my opinion that they are wrong for Hellraiser, as I explained a while back at Brutal As Hell. Hey, how about this: why don't the Red Sonja producers ditch Simon West and hire these two? I'm sure there's room for Mr Farmer to get his seemingly obligatory naked cameo.

In many respects, it seems only proper that Drive Angry should crash and burn on the big screen. Ultimately, this is a movie that will play best over beer and curry in the living room on Friday night. There's more than enough eye candy to ensure no-one will miss the 3D, assuming (as I do) that home 3D doesn't take off the way the home entertainment industry wants it to. And with an ending that leaves things ever-so-slightly open for a sequel, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we get one or two direct-to-DVD follow ups. We only get a couple of teasing glimpses of Hell, so there's certainly room to explore that universe further. In fact, you know what seems most likely? A prequel showing how John Milton went to Hell in the first place. Most likely starring Dean Cain as Milton. Were I a betting man, I would put money on that.

But regardless of whether it prompts a fully fledged sequel, or a cheapo DVD sequel, or a rip-off from The Asylum, Drive Angry has immediately earned itself a spot in the cult hall of fame for the 20teens. It's a rip-roaring good time, and if you're lucky enough to have a local cinema that's still showing it, get yourself a ticket. Otherwise, look forward to the DVD from Lionsgate sometime in the next few months, and keep a six-pack and takeaway curry menu handy.

1 comment:

  1. Great Site you have here!

    Thought this was awesome. Loved the "walking away from the explosion" bit. Classic 80s. Would watch a straight to dvd sequel with Dean Cain. Eric Roberts should be the villain.

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