In some ways the crowd I saw Drive Angry with at midnight was perfect-- raucous, probably a little drunk, totally invested in all the Nic Cage madness were about to see. But the louder they got, shouting out inconsequential comments or laughing at absolutely nothing, the more they started to feel like the movie on the screen-- self-satisfied and noisy, incapable of either doing something more interesting or ceding the spotlight. At one point the theater manager stepped into the screening to tell the kids in the crowd to shape up; too bad he couldn't do the same for Patrick Lussier, who directs Drive Angry as a wild, messy disappointment.
At moments it's a good kind of mess, being that it's probably the only movie bold enough to have both William Fichtner playing Satan's accountant in a sharp suit and Amber Heard in a pair of barely-there cutoffs driving a '69 Dodge Charger while singing "Fuck The Pain Away" by Peaches. Both of those things seem uniquely strange and not just pandering to the thrill-seeking audience sold by the title, but the same can't be said for the rest of the film, which centers around a ludicrously flimsy revenge plot that's mostly an opportunity to show off guns, explosions, naked women and 3D trickery, often--and impressively-- in the same frame. The 3D looks fantastic, the slo-mo bullet shots well-executed and the nudity as good as ever, but it's all just thrown up there, lacking narrative coherence or stakes, something even the most lurid exploitation needs to keep the audience engaged.
Nicolas Cage is at the center of it all, of course, and had the opportunity to elevate the film into something as fun as it wanted to be. Instead he turns in another one of those grim, inexplicable Cage performances, scowling and driving as if he's punching a time clock, spouting off some inimitable dialogue with a straight face but never really chewing on it. As Milton, a man escaped from hell in order to avenge the death of his daughter at the hands of a Satanic cult, Cage is the archetypal man on a mission and not much more; he's got a penchant for sex with trashy blondes and a way with a gun, but we rarely get the anarchic glee that Lussier clearly wanted Cage to bring. It's the exact opposite of what Fichtner brings as The Accountant, delivering every line with laconic wit and cool bravado. Cage perks up in his scenes with Fichtner, as though he's finally found someone to challenge him, and it's mostly a shame that Drive Angry isn't simply a road movie about the two of them doing Satan's work across the land.
As the actual second lead of the film, Heard-- playing the world's hottest small-town waitress with the world's least-convincing Southern accent-- is appropriately fierce and even occasionally funny, elevating her eye-candy role to something a little more substantial. But like everyone else, she's hamstrung by the film, which eschews character development or narrative momentum for increasingly violent or crazy gags, all leading up to a confrontation with the cult leader (Billy Burke) that ends with Cage drinking beer out of a human skull. Out of context that sounds fantastic, but by constantly upping the ante on its own weirdness and never giving us anything to actually care about, Drive Angry manages to make even the most fun-sounding things exhausting.
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