Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Although the latest Nicolas Cage epic surpasses his previous potboiler “Season of the Witch,” “My Bloody Valentine” director Patrick Lussier’s “Drive Angry 3-D” (**1/2 out of ****) qualifies as little more than a campy, white-trash, B-movie about a gun-toting fugitive fresh out of Hell who struggles to save his infant granddaughter from a Satanic cult set on slaughtering her. Blood-splattered, babe-strewn, and bullet-riddled, this half-grilled collection of grindhouse clich├ęs delivers non-stop action that you’ve seen before in better movies like “Race with the Devil," "Shoot’em Up,” “Crank,” and “Machete.” The only shred of originality in this hard-boiled, hare-brained hokum is a go-for-broke motel room massacre. A half-clad Cage in sunglasses, clutching a fifth of Jack Daniels in one fist and an automatic pistol in the other, mows down a mob of murderous miscreants as they migrate into his room without invitation. Just to show how incredibly cool that our hero is under fire, Lussier and co-scenarist Todd Farmer have his adversaries storm in on him in the middle of a tryst with a totally naked cocktail waitress astride him. Of course, the deafening gunfight traumatizes the poor dame. Meantime, our imperturbable protagonist misses nary a stroke until his pistol clicks on empty and the last thug stands poised to polish him off. This is as good as this beer & pizza movie gets. “Drive Angry” amounts to a second-rate, supernatural saga with cars flying through flaming hoops in “Dukes of Hazzard” fashion without a modicum of realism. Nevertheless, despite all its audacious abandon and above-average 3-D photography, this contrived, R-rated fantasy lacks a shred of genuine suspense. Since our hero is immortal, nothing the villains do can harm him. Sure, they kick him when he is down and put bullets into him, but Milton suffers no long term damage. In other words, we don't have to worry about his safety. As far as that goes, we don't have to worry about the safety of the child that rests in the arms of these vicious thugs. Hollywood would never sanction a film where a helpless child would get burned up. Entirely predictable as well as pedestrian from start to finish, this contrived road rage serves up drivel for dialogue and muscle car stunts that pale by comparison with the “Fast & Furious” franchise.

“Drive Angry” opens in Laughter, Colorado. Our enigmatic hero, John Milton (Nicolas Cage of “Face/Off”), has miraculously managed to escape from perdition. We're given a brief glimpse of Hell with its charred landscape, but none of the action takes place on those fried premises. Guess we'll have to await either for the prequel or the sequel to learn more about Milton's shenanigans in Hades. Meanwhile, we’re neither told how Milton broke out of Hell nor where he was imprisoned, except that he was confined in 'a dark place' that he didn't relish. When we see him for the first time, Milton is behind the wheel of a hot rod with an automatic shotgun. He runs down three repellent ruffians who work for wicked satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke of “Twilight”) so he can learn the whereabouts of his infant granddaughter. We're told that King murdered Milton’s daughter and son-in-law and King kept her femur as a trophy and turned it into a walking stick. King makes a relatively bland villain in the greater scheme of things when compared to such monsters as either Dr. Hannibal Lecter from "Silence of the Lambs" or Clarence J. Boddicker from "Robocop." He is leading his minions to a derelict prison in southern Louisiana to sacrifice the child during a bizarre full moon ritual. Chalk up points for Lussier and Farmer for giving the action a deadline. Just to show that he is serious about his aims; Milton blows one thug’s hand off with a blast from his shotgun. That scene looks good in 3-D. He shoots another thug in the leg and threatens to turn his thigh into ground chuck if he doesn’t talk. Naturally, the wounded man divulges King’s destination. Of course, no scene like this one would be complete without our hero igniting a stream of fuel leaking from the smashed up pick-up truck that the villains trundled around in and then walking away as the vehicle blows up in a fireball.

During the opening gunfight, our hero crashed his car and wound up afoot. He trudges no farther than a greasy spoon roadside diner where he spots a nubile waitress, Piper (Amber Heard of “Pineapple Express”), who has just quit her job. Piper's lecherous boss, Fat Lou (Jack McGee of "Basic Instinct") got fresh with her so she cleared out. Our heroine is cruising home to her out-of-work boyfriend when her sleek 1969 Dodge Charger overheats and coasts to a halt. As if on cue, Milton walks out of the woods, takes a gander under the hood, and then tweaks something. In no time flat, they are heading to see her sweetheart. Earlier, Piper had boasted to another waitress about how she had deprived her boyfriend of sex with her until he proposed marriage. It seems that he has been out of work and Piper has been paying the bills on the Charger. Imagine Piper’s surprise when she finds Frank (Todd Farmer of “Jason-X”) in bed with a dark-haired beauty. A bare-knuckles fistfight between Piper and Frank’s slut ensues and later Frank steps in and punches Piper out. He is about to carve her face up when Milton intervenes and decks Frank with several devastating blows. A grateful Piper agrees to drive Milton to Louisiana.

Along about this time, another mysterious individual makes his entrance. A well-tailored man in a suit and tie who calls himself 'the Accountant' (William Fichtner of “Heat”) is trailing Milton and plans to take him back to Satan. Milton and the Accountant engage in a game of cat and mouse throughout “Drive Angry.” Although they appear to be adversaries, the Accountant helps Milton out of some pretty tight predicaments, particularly a sheriff’s roadblock where an army of lawmen yearn for an excuse to blow our hero and heroine to smithereens. The Accountant likes to toss around a magic coin that can either change into the credentials of an FBI agent or a deadly weapon. Indeed, he hurls the coin at one bad guy and it sinks half-way into the brute’s forehead and kills him.

“Drive Angry” comes by its R-rating naturally. The f-word is uttered about 75 times in a variety of variations. When loose women aren’t displaying ample cleavage, they are parading around as naked as jaybirds without a qualm. The violence is somewhat extreme. At one point, we see the villainous Jonah brandish a straight razor and slash at a man’s throat. Although the blade is never shown penetrating flesh, the filmmakers show a geyser of blood splashing a nearby wall. Hands are obliterated. Heads are cut off. A baseball bat is used to skewer a man’s torso and the poor hooligan writhes in agony as he is pinned to a wall. The ultimate act of violence occurs when a heavy is disintegrated by a so called ‘god gun’ that deprives the individual of his soul so he can neither enter Heaven or Hell. Our triumphant hero drinks a cold beer from the dead man’s shattered cranium. Ghoulish as all this seems, Lussier and Farmer play everything for macabre laughs. Indeed, nothing in “Drive Angry” is remotely realistic. Unfortunately, virtually everything is so phony that it provides little in the way of catharsis. You know an action movie is in trouble when the demise of its chief villain yields no satisfaction. “Drive Angry” steps on the gas but winds up going nowhere in the long run.