Once upon a time, directing-and-writing duo Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer had a promising genre career. After his directorial debut, Dracula 2000, Lussier collaborated with Farmer on the wickedly fun remake, My Bloody Valentine 3D. At one point, Dimension Films pegged the duo to follow-up Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, tentatively titled Halloween 3D. But that project never happened. Instead, Lussier and Farmer made Drive Angry with Nicolas Cage. After this movie bombed hard, the duo didn’t make another feature-length movie until last year’s lacklustre Trick. What exactly went wrong with this gonzo callback to midnight movies? Is Drive Angry a missed guilty pleasure? O Or is it just a bad movie?
Ex-con John Milton has escaped – from Hell itself. And he has only one thing on his mind. Revenge. A ruthless cult leader, Jonah King, murdered his daughter and son-in-law, kidnapping their baby son. Now King and his followers plan to sacrifice the child to the devil, unleashing Hell on Earth. With a tough waitress along for the ride and Satan’s commissary, The Accountant, hunting him down, Milton is running out of time to save his grandson’s soul.
Drive Angry is 100MPH of CGI-Rendered Mayhem
First and foremost, Drive Angry is a terminally stupid movie. But it also knows it’s stupid. That helps. And Lussier wastes no time with set-up or plot. Straight out of the gate, Drive Angry rips into the action and rarely lets up. Lussier strings together several impressively chaotic car chases and shoot-outs. Key story elements – of which there are few – are doled out periodically. No character development, little exposition – Lussier doesn’t waste time with explanations. Instead Drive Angry is outrageously lean midnight movie mayhem. Questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’ are irrelevant to enjoying this movie.
…for a movie so indebted to drive-in exploitation fare, the effects like a bit of a cheat.
Where Grindhouse fans may take issue with Drive Angry is its over-reliance on shaky CGI-effects. This isn’t an isolated criticism of Lussier’s work, either. While it remains one of the better horror remakes, Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine also substituted middle-of-the-road CGI for practical gore effects. Like My Bloody Valentine, Drive Angry has inspired moments of blood-spatter. Nonetheless, for a movie so indebted to drive-in exploitation fare, the effects feel like a bit of a cheat.
Drive Angry Tries Very Hard to Be Edgy
The original run of drive-in exploitation movies were politically incorrect, irreverent, and often offensive. Sometimes by design, sometimes unintentionally. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have made careers tapping into this vibe and making it their own. And Lussier and Farmer really want to be edgy. Though it often works, Drive Angry often feels like it’s trying too hard. A few scenes feel more than just a little forced. In particular, Milton’s mid-coitus shootout in a sleazy motel isn’t so much edgy as it is groan-worthy.
Cage Does ‘Cage’ While Fichtner Has Fun
Yes, Lussier and Farmer sometimes try too hard. Fortunately, Drive Angry’s cast take the material in stride and make it work more often than not. Cage is more ‘Con Air’ Nic Cage, than ‘Wicker Man’ Nic Cage. Somehow Cage manages to keep a straight face while reciting what should be ridiculous dialogue. Yet Cage’s straight performance does wonders. But it’s William Fichtner who steals the show. Specifically, Fichtner looks like he’s having a blast as The Accountant. He’s as eclectic as the movie, but does it effortlessly.
But it’s William Fichtner who steals the show.
Too bad Lussier and Farmer don’t have a villains that’s nearly as captivating as Milton or The Accountant. Billy Burke’s ‘Jonah King’ lacks much in the way of charisma or menace. In a movie defined by its bombastic style, Jonah King is underwhelming. Longtime horror fans will enjoy a brief appearance from Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps). And Amber Heard is good enough to rise above what’s essentially an ‘eye-candy’ role.
Drive Angry Stays in the Fun Lane Despite Flaws
Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen a resurgent interest in good, old-fashioned midnight movies. While Drive Angry isn’t on the same level as, say, Machete, it’s still firmly planted in ‘guilty pleasure’ territory. Fun performances, frenetic pacing, and an unwavering commitment to its concept help overcome the movie’s flaws.