OK, first off: I am a huge fan of exploitation movies. The wilder, the better. I have waded into the waters of many ghastly horror titles, wacky science-fiction tales, unapologetic revenge flicks and monstrous kiddie films to boot, only to joyfully sop up all of the debauchery like the demented cinemasochist that I am. But even I couldn’t help but shake my head over how awful Drive Angry was.
Had it been made in the ‘70s, Drive Angry would have been pure gold for the drive-in and/or grindhouse circuits. It’s overly-sensational onscreen occurrences would have escalated it to a state of ever-lasting glory as a genuine cult classic a few decades on. Tragically, though, Drive Angry was produced in 2010 — following the near-extinction of such specialty theaters — and made solely as a 3D contender to modern-day exploitation films that pay homage to the trashy and offbeat masterpieces of yesteryear.
It’s a pity, too, since just about all of the elements in this no-holds-barred supernatural action/thriller/comedy were ripe for the picking, but ultimately spoiled before they could be sincerely savored because the filmmakers didn’t know how to properly harvest or process them.
Most (if not all) of the blame here can be attributed to writer/director Patrick Lussier and his frequent collaborator, co-writer Todd Farmer. These are the guys that remade My Bloody Valentine and are currently working on a reboot of the Hellraiser franchise if that tells you anything. If that doesn’t tell you anything, the perhaps this will: they screwed the pooch on Drive Angry. It’s an unapologetically-dreadful thrill-ride that goes for the maximum shock value (e.g. gratuitous sex, violence and language), but winds up boring and insulting you.
And then there’s the film’s lead star: Nicolas Cage’s ever-expanding forehead — once again accompanied by its host organism, Mr. Nicolas Cage himself. As it frequently the case in Nic Cage vehicles, he’s downright awful. When he’s not hamming it up with an almost-Huntz Hall-like grin on his face (which is particularly disturbing during a sex scene), he’s overacting like…well, Nicolas Cage. And, when he’s not overacting, he’s mumbling one near-monotone line after another; each delivery worse than the last.
There aren’t many of Hollywood’s so-called “professionals” that can take a simple phrase like “I need to reload” and challenge even that of the most calamitous Bruno Mattei films on record for the “Absolutely Worst Read Of Any Line Ever Award” in the process, but this exalted member of the Coppola clan can.
Anyhoo, Cage plays John Milton (a reference to the 17th Century poet of the same name), an indestructible, deceased bad guy who has escaped from the bowels of Hell in order to take down vicious cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke, inhabiting all of the best elements of Michael Christian’s character in Poor Pretty Eddie), who murdered his daughter and kidnapped his newborn grandbaby. Yup, that’s right: this guy is literally from Hell (as is the movie) — and he’s swiped a nifty weapon (dubbed the Godkiller) from Lucifer’s personal collection of trinkets in order to bring the demented King down.
As he pursues the sadistic sect of so-called “Satanists” (who practice “Satanic Magic,” according to the dialogue), Milton picks up a poor young hot blonde waitress named Piper (movie remake/rip-off queen Amber Heard) with a mint condition ‘69 Dodge Charger. But Milton isn’t the only one that has come from the land down under: hot on his trail is a mysterious and equally-invincible feller known as The Accountant (William Fichtner, who channels his inner Christopher Walken in order to be the best actor in the movie).
Masquerading as an FBI agent, The Accountant goes from hindering Milton’s quest by recruiting Earthly law enforcers to stop him, and then onto aiding it by turning around and slowing the cops up (‘80s horror star Tom Atkins shows up for a few scenes as a detective). A venerable assortment of chaos ensues in their respective wakes, a number of cultists and vintage muscle cars get wasted in the process, and a very embarrassed David Morse sheepishly cashes another paycheck in a small role as an old acquaintance of Cage’s.
Look, I know that it sounds cool. By all rights, it should be. Alas, Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer’s attempts to imbibe the various jaw-dropping aspects of a very rebellious side of cinema are somewhat laudable at best — but their execution of said facets are handled in such a manner that any experienced exploitation movie viewer will seriously question if these two hosers ever even saw an actual grindhouse or drive-in film. I’d lay even money that they did nothing more than watch Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s numerous cinematic homages to those good ol’ psychotronic flicks in question (or maybe just Dwayne Johnson’s Faster), and based Drive Angry off of those instead.
Worse still, the producers of Drive Angry gave ‘em carte blanche with this one: allowing them to do whatever they wanted, as long as they threw in plenty of 3D money shots. As a result, no one was there to say “Give us our money back” like there should have been.
Instead, moviegoers all across the country had to say it to theater owners. I’m sure a number of inebriated thrill seekers on the cheap found it to be ample entertainment, but these same people were probably lost by the movie’s may references to deities such as Anubis and Loki (when the film premiered, Roger Ebert pointed out that the film’s target audience would be lost on the John Milton reference — I’m pretty sure he was right). While it suggests that Lussier and Farmer were trying to be intelligent in their writing process, it’s entirely fathomable that they were merely trying to sound intelligent instead.
Or maybe it’s just Nic Cage’s dire delivery of the film’s dialogue. Why didn’t they cast Danny Trejo or Kurt Russell instead? It probably would have improved the finished product considerably.
And, frankly, for the record: there just wasn’t enough angry driving for a movie called Drive Angry in my opinion. There were times when they accelerated whilst being slightly annoyed. On occasion, they maneuvered through the surprisingly sparsely-populated roads featured in the film with a fairly-apprehensive bit of resentment at their command, but they really never drove what I would consider to be “angry” for the required amount of time that would make the film live up to the mass-quantity of livid vehicular operation as the film’s title suggests.
Drive Angry hits DVD (as well as Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, for those of you who are interested) via Summit Entertainment in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks in English and Spanish, with optional very large subtitles available in both of those languages in case you want to verify that the actors are actually saying what you’re hearing.
Several special features are tacked-on with the DVD release, including an audio commentary with Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, two deleted scenes, and two featurettes on the making of the movie with cast and crew. While the enthusiasm that the cast and crew obviously possess within the disc’s selection of bonus materials is praiseworthy, it doesn’t change the fact that the movie fails on every count at being the modern cult flick it tries to be.
In short: it’s terrible — and that’s coming from a B-Movie fan, mind you!