Nicolas Cage is Milton, an escapee from Hell who’s on a mission to find his child in the dirty south. Along with a waitress named Piper (Amber Heard), Milton seeks out a Satanic cult who will perform a child sacrificing ritual in three days. Three groups are trying to stop Milton: the police, the cult itself, and a mysterious man known as The Accountant who is attempting to get Milton to return to the firey depths. Sounds like a deliriously fun mess but a quick look at director Patrick Lussier’s resume sums up what got my goat in Drive Angry.
Doing mostly sequels and remakes isn’t going to put you on my “Directors To Watch” list unfortunately. All the problems I associate with his filmography come to fruition in Drive Angry: it feels derivative of films with similar themes that were more fresh the first time around. It’s a schlocky story no doubt, but I’m a firm believer that even a simple story can be made interesting if the right talent are involved to inject it with excitement. In Drive Angry, we have the schlock set-up but none of the right ingredients that make this rocket take off.
Nicolas Cage as the lead of Milton doesn’t work. Cage must be a bit embarrassed from the wave of parodies of his over-the-top antics in films like The Wicker Man as he is totally sleep walking through his role of Milton and comes off as bored. Milton isn’t very interesting to begin with. Being undead, Milton is invincible against gunfire and other such punishment. That’s exciting when the character is a villain like The Terminator or Michael Myers, but as a hero, you never feel like Milton’s in any great danger. Perhaps if his main rival played by Billy Burke didn’t resemble a youthful Neil Young, he’d have a foe worthy to come back from the dead to fight with.
On a trivial note, Cage’s haircut is hidden on the poster. I think it’s because he’s beginning to resemble Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. They used to really look like each other in Con Air in the early 2000s, but I’m guessing that things have come full circle for 2011.
The action scenes are nothing to write home about. One scene involving Piper jumping between two speedy vehicles begins to build some excitement, but the chase ends as soon as that jump happens. Another scene involving a tanker truck crash is ruined by having the tanker become a blob of ugly CG as soon as it takes flight. I’m not anti-CG, but I prefer it when directors use it creatively to make the impossible happen. Good examples include the gonzo car chase in Wanted or the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2. In Drive Angry, you just feel cheated seeing this blog of computer graphics leaping into the air. The last scene worth noting involves a gun fight between Milton and a host of baddies. While the shootout happens, Milton is having sex (fully clothed) with an anonymous woman who is stark naked! This might work if this film were more like Crank, but it does not fit the context of Cage’s brooding character as I have no idea why these two decide to fool around in bed. I can’t shake the feeling of theft either, as a similar sex-n’-shootin’ scene already happened a few years ago in Shoot ‘Em Up. Were you hoping to make Shoot ‘Em Up 2 at one point Lussier?
Despite a lack of storytelling skill or quality action, Drive Angry does boast some actors trying who try to resurrect a dead script. Amber Heard does tries very hard to give her character a bit of grit and William Fichtner’s role of the Accountant also manages to give the film a bit of a punch that it desperately needs. Fichtner chews on the scenery every time he appears. If these two were given a script worthy of their effort they put forth, I’d be able to give Drive Angry a recommendation. Otherwise, I’d suggest Drag Me to Hell and Grindhouse for a better slice of supernatural-tinged schlock.