Cage’s ‘Drive Angry’ the latest attempt to manufacture grindhouse thrills
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier
The latest attempt to bottle vintage grindhouse thrills with the aid of a name-brand star and a (relatively) huge budget, Patrick Lussier’s Drive Angry isn’t as odious as some of the attempted revivalists (Bitch Slap remains the gruesome nadir), but it doesn’t do much to contradict the notion that contemporary efforts to reconstruct low-budget ’70s thrills inevitably feel like they’re simply trying too hard to push the sex-and-violence envelope while simultaneously missing out on the scrappy charm and easy wit that marks the best grindhouse fare.
Resembling equal parts a dumbed-down version of the fire-and-brimstone comic series Preacher and a 13-year-old’s imagined narrative arc for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Drive stars the ever-adrift Nicolas Cage as Milton (sigh), a former prisoner of Hell who escapes back to Earth in order to prevent his infant granddaughter from being from being sacrificed by a would-be Satanic cult, headed up by his daughter’s murderer (Billy Burke). Along the way, he picks up a short-shorted tough for backup (Amber Heard) and finds himself dogged by both the fuzz and hell’s “accountant’ (expert scenery-chewer William Fichtner).
Drive Angry‘s principal mistake: casting. While Cage’s oddball presence might seem a natural fit for a smirking, self-aware piece of expensive trash, here he’s stuck in wisecracking, straightforward badass mode, meaning he doesn’t get to exhibit non-sequitur quirk (Bad Lieutenant), ludicrous line readings (Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man), comic verve (Adaptation) or even couldn’t-care-less, movie-rending flippancy (Deadfall). Additionally, he’s not a compelling physical presence as an action hero – in fact, Heard makes a far more believable ass-kicker, so every “wait by the car” scene feels laughably contrived. Cage, undead or otherwise, simply doesn’t stand a chance even compared to neo-grindhouse menaces like Machete or Death Proof‘s Stuntman Mike.
When it does manage small triumphs of wit between the CGI viscera, it’s short-lived. Fichtner’s reaper gets a few choice quips a the expense of the thugs he knows don’t have long to go and the,backwoods black-magic goons he knows don’t really have a line on his boss, but he’s also a too-obvious combination of Anton Chigurh (coin-tossing dealer of death) and Agent Smith (white-collar menace). The screenplay’s attempt to parcel out exposition throughout the movie seems like a good strategy to avoid an action-free first stretch, but it also means it quickly devolves into a predictable rhythm (chase, stop, explain – repeat ad infinitum). The multiple-villain angle is intriguing at first, until allegiances shift predictably – and without good reason – to tilt the odds far too strongly in favor of our heroes. After an early bout of randiness in which he both publicly molests Eastbound and Down‘s Katy Mixon and thrills a willing barmaid without removing his pants, Milton quickly settles down into a stock figure.
For all the gore, nudity and explosions on display (and there’s plenty), they never add up to anything but rote fan-service, right down to the use of 3D to propel bones, car parts and knives directly at us, in the hopes that we won’t notice we’ve seen this before – faster, funnier, and far cheaper.
– Simon Howell