Grindhouse pictures became extinct towards the end of the seventies and Hollywood has attempted to resurrect them in the last couple of years, excessive gore and gratuitous nudity withstanding. Director Patrick Lussier’s last film, My Bloody Valentine, was a faithful remake of the 1981 film that featured terrified people running for their lives from a maniac in a miner outfit and pickaxe in hand. It was a minor hit and a finely tuned example of former slasher films from the past, except for the fact that it was filmed and released in 3D. A grindhouse picture with a dose of modern movie making, Lussier clearly believes it to be a trend with the release of his new film Drive Angry 3D.
The story kicks off right away with Milton (Nicolas Cage) blasting away bad guys with his shotgun while driving a classic muscle car. Before the title sequence even begins limbs have been dismembered and the tone of the movie has been set, Drive Angry does not take itself too seriously. Milton has escaped from Hell to avenge the murder of his daughter by killing the cult and its leader that is responsible for her death. A revenge flick with supernatural elements, especially when the Devil’s assistant (William Fichtner) comes into the mix, trying to track down Milton and return him to his eternal resting place. It wouldn’t be a grindhouse movie without an impossibly strong, utterly beautiful, female presence and Drive Angry doesn’t disappoint in that category. Amber Heard tags along for the ride with Milton as Piper, a foul-mouthed former waitress who has a right punch to die for.
The plot, while interesting enough, loses its charm and momentum midway through the picture and dissolves into mindlessness. Towards the end you don’t really know what has happened or why, you just accept that endless waves of people have died and that Hell is somehow connected to it. To judge this movie on its storyline alone would be unfair since the general consensus is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The performances are strong enough to keep your interest however, some being over the top and temperamental while others are quite restrained.
Cage does his job in the film, no nonsense badass who only cares about finding the man who killed his daughter and, well, muscle cars too. He isn’t bland; Cage doesn’t know the meaning of it. He plays Milton as someone who basically drives angry, and kills people while enjoying intercourse with a voluptuous bartender. The supporting cast all have their moments especially the film’s co-writer Todd Farmer, who has a cameo as Piper’s ex-fiancée that doesn’t end too well for him. Billy Burke as the main villain, Jonah King, is also undeniably creepy as a religious lunatic who reminds you how deadly someone can be when they are influenced by nonsense. Burke nails the sinister accent along with his nuanced characteristics that make him such a revolting human being.
The stand outs involve Fichtner of course. As one of Hollywood’s best character actors around, he has a blast here playing someone (or something) that doesn’t live on Earth but views his precious limited time on it as a vacation from his boss down below. Fichtner’s character has no explanation or back story in the movie and ends up being the most interesting thing about it. His fascinating movements and ominous way of speaking is so bizarre, even in a grindhouse flick like this. The other stand out was Heard, who is surprisingly convincing as a gorgeous babe that can only exists in movies like these. Her delicate features are so opposed to her language and physical anger that it works for her character. It’s hard to even keep track of every person she punches throughout the film. Heard delivers spunk and force into Piper, making her an excellent counterpoint to ride along with Cage’s Milton.
The action in Drive Angry is messy and unmemorable, favoring gore and violence over anything redeemably coherent. Other than a prolonged car chase in the middle, the movie has an absence of car-induced mayhem, which is strange given the film’s title. The 3D aspect for Drive Angry is not mandatory but well-suited. Lussier does shoot his movies in 3D and he makes it easy to appreciate even when an axe isn’t coming at you in slow motion. It’s natural and every bloody headshot seems to burst a little juicier with 3D glasses on. There is an interesting sequence that involves three separate flashbacks all appearing onscreen at once, which is not just experimental but somewhat affective too.
Drive Angry 3D is not the blast that some would expect from a movie of its title, and for once Nicolas Cage isn’t the main over the top factor that he’s positioned himself into lately. Instead the film relies on its supporting actors to maintain its charm and interest while moving at an uneven pace that ends all over the place. While it can be fun at times and some of the dialogue will make you smile, Drive Angry 3D is your typical grindhouse picture of the seventies. You won’t remember it after seeing it, until it’s playing on television at three in the morning, where it will eventually belong.
Performances, especially from William Fichtner and Amber Heard, are great and the 3D is pretty solid, but that's about all I can say for Drive Angry 3D in terms of positive aspects of the film.