Are you sitting down?
If you’re not, you might want to.
Ready? Here goes.
Nic Cage has done a movie I like.
It’s that that I dislike him as a person or actor. It’s not that he hasn’t done anything I’ve liked before, but it certainly seems that he’s kind of gotten himself into a bit of a rut- not the typecast rut, though. No, it’s that rare condition that I call the “Sean Connery Rut” where no matter what role the actor plays (Russian sub captain, Spanish swordsman, etc…), it’s performed the exact same way. So, it seems to me that Cage has brought that same lazy… Nic Cage-y style to every role he’s done in the last ten years. It’s rarely a good thing.
Call “Drive Angry” the exception.
Here, Cage plays John Milton, mysterious dead Hell-dwelling loner, whose daughter was murdered by Jonah King (Billy Burke) and his satanic cult. How angry did that make Milton? Angry enough for him to escape from Hell to put a biblical-scale beat-down on King and rescue his infant granddaughter, now kidnapped by King. In order to save that little girl, though, he’ll need a car – a fast car. Fortunately, sexy ass-kicker Piper (Amber Heard) has one and off they go to thwart King’s evil plans. However, also chasing Milton is the Accountant (William Fichtner) looking to drag him back to Hell to finish paying his debt.
“Drive Angry” is the possessed demon child of 70’s grindhouse and 80’s action films. From the opening frame, they leave no doubt that this movie – unlike most action films these days – is made for grown-ups and not for the usual pock-marked teen. At the very least, it’s for people who regularly have f-bombs littering their daily conversations. Director Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer staple us to the tail-end of a wild horse and give it a good slap. It’s almost as if each action set piece looked at the one before it and said, “I can do it bigger and better.” The only time the movie dragged was whenever Nic Cage was allowed to ramble on too much. I realize that kind of goes against what I said earlier, but the sullen, seething rote that he plays so well is perfect only in moderation. The movie’s strength was the action – and Cage in action – which fortunately they kept to.
The ensemble around Cage is also impressively good and well-balanced for chemistry and humor. Heard is importantly believable here as the red-blooded Piper who would jump your bones just as soon as break them. Burke adds a nefarious and oily performance as cult leader King who’s a bit of a cross between Jim Jones and, ironically, Elvis. Fichtner, a personal favorite of mine, does an awesomely quirky and dangerous turn as Hell’s accountant. Behind these, you have another layer of great character actors (and again personal favorites) like David Morse (“the Long Kiss Goodnight”), Christa Campbell (“2001 Maniacs”), and local Dallas actress Arianne Martin (“Red Victoria”) fleshing things out.
Since this review is late, I already know the weekend box office for this movie wasn’t great and that’s a shame. I think a lot of it had to do with factors like the fact that it’s the second Nic Cage movie in as many months (the first being the mostly forgettable “Season of the Witch”), it’s a hard “R” rating and it’s in 3-D. Ordinarily, I’m not a big fan of 3-D films, but for the most part, I felt the filmmakers did a great job of using the effect to create a sense of depth in the environment and not just to fling stuff at the audience. In fact, the times where they did resort to that were the times I thought the effect failed most noticeably.
“Drive Angry” is a film that works best at full-throttle when it doesn’t leave you time to think too much about what’s going on. It’s a film that’s not afraid to remind you that there are people out there above the age of eighteen who smoke, drink, have sex and drive fast. It’s a movie I enjoyed regardless of who was in it and that’s no small feat.