Director: Patrick Lussier / Screenplay: Patrick Lussier & Todd Farmer / Editing: Devin & Patrick Lussier / DP: Brian Pearson / Score: Michael Wandmacher
Cast: Nicolas Cage / Amber Heard / William Fichtner / Billy Burke / David Morse / Todd Farmer / Christa Campbell
One Hell of a Movie…
I suppose it was only a matter of time before I reviewed a Nicolas Cage movie: the only remaining question being: which one? The sensitive, affecting performance delivered in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas (1995) perhaps? Or one of the evergreen, high-concept milestones such as Face/Off (1997) or The Rock (1996)? By this point in Cage’s storied career, the list is almost too long to – wait. Of course. It has to be Drive Angry.
If you’ve not seen it (and unless you’re a Cage completionist, why would you?), Drive Angry typifies the career sunset that Cage has been enjoying of late; a period one might divide between two strands.
First, through his production company, he’s been able to support projects that might not otherwise get made, despite their artistic merits. If he can lend a little star power by appearing in them, all to the good: I’m looking at you, Bad Lieutenant (2009). Strand two – the acting – spans two distinct genres these days. The first, is that of the loner-out-for-revenge, e.g. Seeking Justice (2011). The other, is more of the same but a little frothier, preferably with a spooky tinge.
2007’s Ghost Rider – a filmic adaptation of an obscure Marvel character – unlocked a new generation of fans for Cage, at the point he was tipping into box-office insignificance. With its blend of ludicrous action, OTT pyros and a thudding heavy metal soundtrack that staggers forward under a cod-Satanic mantle, ‘Rider was to generate healthy business and pave the way for Cage to explore the same, lucrative Grindhouse-influenced vein.
Which brings us to Drive Angry: a cut & paste action flick, made by film-makers who achieve wonders on-screen, with a fraction of the budget one might expect. Writer-Director Patrick Lussier undoubtedly has the chops to handle something more prestige than this. Perhaps then, we should think of ‘Angry as a calling card in the filmography of a director bound for better things. Cage can rest in the knowledge that, not only has his involvement helped another burgeoning career, but that favours might be returned further down the road…
‘Angry begins as it means to continue: with Cage shooting various appendages from the occupants of a rolled pick-up truck; a truck, I should add, that’d been brought to a stop after colliding with Cage’s muscle car in, err, ‘dramatic fashion’. It’s hilarious of course, in a grotesque pastiche of the action genre. There’s no portentous Terminator dialogue here, or much else at-stake for these unfortunate z-list meatheads. No, this is Nic Cage calmly shooting-the-shit out of some bad guys and lobbing out quips as though he were playing a ‘T-800’ as-written by Tarantino himself.
Except he plainly isn’t. And nor is the film, going on the lack of reverence it pays to its genre.
We then get to a roadside diner and while Cage observes from his shadowy booth, we get our first glance at Amber Heard’s Piper. A sassy waitress in said joint, Piper’s unafraid of grabbing life (or her sleazy boss) by the balls. No wonder she loses so many jobs… Still, this potty-mouthed young woman has got a sweet ride: a ‘69 Dodge Charger (or is it a ’68? One can never tell…). Moreover, Piper ‘drives it like she stole it’ which, in a way, she has: it’s her boyfriend’s car.
Cage then, is John Milton (a reference sure to go over the heads of the majority of this movie’s audience) and he’s Looking For Someone. Wouldn’t you know it? Piper’s car breaks down and who should be on-hand to fix it and earn himself a free ride? Lucky boy.
Meanwhile, back at the diner, William Fichtner’s Accountant turns-up, in a sharp, black suit looking like one of the G-Men in The Matrix, albeit minus the shades. Like Agent Smith before him, he’s taking names and asking awkward questions, as he tracks down Milton. There’s something ‘supernatural’ about him; he’s no mere accountant which was, I’m sure, hilarious when both Lussier & Todd Farmer wrote the thing. By their own account, the film used their FIRST DRAFT in order to stay ‘fresh’ & unpolished. I’d say they succeeded.
Piper’s home early from the diner. As Milton trudges off to a callbox (remember them?) she enters the small house she shares with Frank, her loser boyfriend, only to find him abed with another girl. Whenever we’ve seen this scenario filmed before, proceedings generally follow a few, well-trodden paths, but not here. To his credit, Director Lussier has Piper drag the naked girl by her hair, onto the street, before starting to beat-up Frank.
Fair ‘nuff, but it’s curious to have the sequence then run-on and NOT have Frank retaliate in self-defence. He’s obviously in-shape and carries himself with menace, so his inertia breaks character out of ‘respect’ for the convention of not hitting a woman at all costs. When he does retaliate, the film-makers allow him a single, token punch, before a returning Milton weighs-in on Piper’s behalf.
This is just tokenism. The film has sold us the notion that Piper can defend herself yet, at the moment Frank decides to lash out, Milton returns as some ‘avenging angel’ and leaves Piper grateful for it, thus reducing her efforts to little more than exploitation for its own sake.
Milton & Piper take off again in the Charger, for points unknown, which would’ve been just dandy for Frank, had the Accountant not turned-up soon after. For Frank’s dander is not just up: he’s piqued. He goes at the newcomer with a baseball bat, which is soon turned against him with dark, comic results. We gawp at the grotesque make-up and the Accountant’s offhand manner and we’re left thinking of the figure of Anton Shigur in the Coen brother’s No Country For Old Men (2007). Yet where the Coen’s left us believing in the very existence of the Devil, we’re laughing here. Why? Because the writers have understood the rules governing this genre and are playing them for fools.
Let me give you an example. At one point, a fully-clothed Milton is boffing a naked barmaid in a motel room. This vigorous tryst then segues into an intricately choreographed gunfight, which leaves them both as the only survivors: and we can’t help but laugh at the absurdity. It’s a clever subversion of what we’ve come to expect yet, simultaneously, it’s paying mere lip-service to the form.
Such as it is, the ‘plot’ revolves around Jonah King; the leader of a Satanic cult (given uninspired life by Billy Burke) and his lame efforts at bringing about ‘Hell on Earth’, through the ritual sacrifice of Milton’s own Granddaughter on ‘the Full Moon’ (*yawn*). King’s entourage was cast on a tight budget, so he’s got little to show for his efforts at world domination, other than the small congregation of a rural chapel (a scenario done MUCH better in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen (2015)). Oh, and a fully-appointed RV and the run of an old prison; a suitable location in which to sow the seeds of The Apocalypse.
By the time we get there, King’s retinue has dwindled further, thanks to Milton’s efforts and now seems comprised of unemployed porn stars and angry, chubby rednecks in regulation-issue plaid shirts. Death is almost too good for them, but Milton’s nothing if not generous…
By the time we got to the final showdown, I was so disinterested that I’d reached the point of rooting for King and was almost disappointed when (Spoiler Alert!) he was obliterated and his remains, sucked into a Hellish vortex for my viewing pleasure. I blame the film for that. After all, isn’t it most likely that, if the ‘End of Days’ do come, that they’ll be ushered in by something – or someone – as banal in outlook and execution, as Jonah King? When viewed in that context, this production could be seen as a valid precursor!
Drive Angry at least knows its audience. It’s a film tooled for a specific domestic-US demographic of teenage boys & young men, with a penchant for formulaic heavy metal, the odd topless model & vacuous ‘Satanic’ tropes that go nowhere.
It’s silly. Vulgar. Reductive. A film so lacking in style or grace, that it can’t even handle its gratuitous T&A without appearing risible. Unless you watch it stoned, I’m guessing, in which case it’s undoubtedly The Best Film Ever Made.
The last picture I saw, that featured a Devil-ish character who steals a human baby, only for its familial champion to rescue it against-the-odds, was Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) and that’s a far, far better confection than this frothy nonsense.
Which brings me back to my opening proposition. It’s clearly Cage’s film. It wouldn’t have got the green-light had he not signed-on, but there’s no sense of commitment to the cause here. Cage is sleepwalking through the entire farrago and either thinking of a looming tax bill or his next Ferrari. After all, it was only his second of five pictures in 2011; a year that began with Season of the Witch and ended with Ghost Rider 2.
All that, and I still haven’t mentioned that it was shot in ‘true’ 3D. There’s a case to be made for how this bobbins (and movies of its ilk) contributed to the nadir of 3D in its latest incarnation, much as Jaws 3D did back in the Eighties.
God moves in mysterious ways…
I can feel the bullet. [PAUSE] It’s still in there.