The tax-strapped Nicolas Cage of late seems to be selecting roles that require the Oscar winner to do the least amount of acting (“Season of the Witch,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” et al.) but when the projects turn out like this one, I’m all up for his creative slump.
With ever-present sunglasses, black leather and mangy hair, Cage inhabits (rather than plays) John Milton, a man who escapes hell in order to save his infant granddaughter, who’s been kidnapped by a cult. “Wait a sec,” you ask, “how exactly does a dead man come back to life?” Well, as the narrator tells us — and this is the opening minute, mind you — some “bad-ass motherfuckers” are just too bad-ass for even the devil’s gates to contain.
Don’t ask questions; just go along with the ride.
And a ride it is, with Milton (how little of the target audience will get that literary reference, I wonder) picking up a partner in crime in Piper (Amber Heard, “Zombieland”), a feisty young woman who has just quit her job and ditched her cheatin’ fiancé (co-screenwriter Todd Farmer), and her Dodge Charger.
Together, they hit the road on the hunt for the tot, with two on their trail: cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke, “Red Riding Hood”) and the supernaturally powered Accountant (William Fichtner, TV’s “Prison Break”). As so many movies are, this one’s stolen by Fichtner, whose laissez-faire performance is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Although “Drive Angry” takes off with an A-lister in the lead, this is a case where the movie itself is the star, and mayhem the main attraction. Farmer and director Patrick Lussier previously teamed for 2009’s “My Bloody Valentine” remake, and if you think that 3-D horror film took excess to excessive heights with the Betsy Rue full-frontal scene (you know the one), that was a mere warm-up.
This F-bomb-laden flick’s biggest OMG sequence has Milton engaging in a one-night stand with a waitress (a rather brave Charlotte Ross, TV’s “NYPD Blue”) in a motel room while shooting a litany of rednecks trying to kill him. It makes the similar scene in 2007’s “Shoot ‘Em Up” look tame by comparison.
Lussier makes great use of the 3-D format; unlike many features these days, it was shot in it, rather than converted later, and even if you watch the 2-D version of the Blu-ray (you have the option if you don’t possess the necessary technology), you get a strong sense of the eye-popping layering throughout.
“Drive Angry” runs out of steam, inevitably, for that predictable final confrontation, but up until then, it’s a very hard-R hoot. Only two scenes from the filmmakers’ lone draft wound up being cut, suggestive of how intentional its full-throttle nature is. —Rod Lott