An escaped convict takes to the road, desperately trying to save his granddaughter from becoming the sacrificial offering of a cult of devil worshipers. The twist is that our escapee, John Milton (heavy literary symbolism!) has broken out of Hell. If he’s going to save the child in time, he’s going to need some fast cars and the help of an ex-waitress.
Drive Angry follows the lead of neo-grindhouse films that saw a new genesis with Deathproof. A faux low budget schlock fest packed with guns, blood, nudity, and random violence. While I appreciate the aesthetic, what I’ve come to dislike about films of this sub-genre is that following the traditions of cheap cash-ins means following a tradition of poor pacing and one dimensional characters that no actor can enliven. Any sense of momentum or building mood is doused by the next overlong bout of exposition or meandering conversation. Editing a film like this down to generate a brisk pace might mean that more film hits the floor than ends up on the screen. As an editor, director Patrick Lussier has worked on the films of directors who are real horror icons so it’s difficult to excuse. This film is tedious.
I’ve said it before and unfortunately, I expect I will have to say it again: Slow motion does not add excitement. It does the exact opposite, engaging the analytical mind rather than the reptile-brain visceral response to outbursts of action that pulls me to the edge of the seat. The much touted action sequence of Milton engaging in a shoot out while in mid-coitus with a waitress plays out in painful slow motion and with background music that doesn’t enhance an action sequence or ironically contrast it.
I had to wait 52 minutes to get a real car chase out of a film ostensibly about demons stealing cars. Once it does get rolling, we get some good stunts and explosions but the need for 3D shrapnel to hit the audience in the face means that some poor CGI elements are layered over the practical effects. These effects all sport very simple textures that look dated compared to current XBOX 360 games. A rolling tanker truck looks like a completely smooth lozenge rather than a real, weighty object.
Nicholas Cage, once again sporting the incongruous blonde locks, spends the entire film being stoic to the point that he could have simply written the words “dour demeanor” on a card and taped it across his face. Anyone could have played this part. Anything could have played this part. Strap a gun on a refrigerator and save on your lead’s salary.
Amber Heard plays Piper the waitress referred to as the “feisty bitch.” Another simplistic character. She gets angry and punches people again and again but still needs to be rescued again and again. More often than not, she is simply along for the ride leading up to the very obvious goal of becoming the adoptive mother for Milton’s grandchild.
William Fichtner was the highlight of the film for me. An entertaining performance as a demonic agent known only as The Accountant, come to collect Milton’s soul and do it with a touch of dapper charm and an unflappable attitude. Some of the best moments in the film come from his bizarre manipulation of people, though in the end even his motivations become confused.
Jenny Dreadful Adds:
Crowbait covered this movie very well and I agree on every point. I’ll talk more about the feminist issues though. Assuming they put any thought into this at all… and that might be a stretch… I appreciate what they were trying to do with their female characters. Piper, though a bit two-dimensional, holds her own in action sequences packing a mean punch and aggressive efficiency. Happily, she’s not thrown in the film to make out with Nicolas Cage either. No unnecessary love sub-plots here. Considering this and the many female cultists ready for a scrap or a gunfight with our heroes, they do some good stuff here that doesn’t follow your standard action movie gender rules. However, every “girl power” success is undone almost immediately.
One example. Amber Heard’s character clearly has every situation handled, so why does she need saving so often? She comes home to find her scumbag boyfriend mid-infidelity and proceeds to violently kick the naked woman out and then repeatedly punch the cheating jerk in the face. After a few satisfying and heavy-hitting blows, he hits back. Now, violence against women is a big issue that warrants lots of discussion and action. However, the look on Nic Cage’s face when he sees that… it’s that zoom-in nostril-flaring scowl that means no man should ever hit a woman and he’s gonna save the day. Sigh. I appreciate the sentiment of a man stepping in to stop abuse if he can, but she was clearly capable enough UNTIL THAT MOMENT to kick this guy’s ass and walk away. This intervention feels tossed in to keep the plot rolling. Also, she had a valid reason to be pissed, but was clearly punching this man repeatedly. Do we want equality? Or do we do whatever we want and then depend on the antiquated code of “chivalry?”
Otherwise, everything’s been covered. Slow-motion makes action boring, (Has anyone told Hollywood? Awkward. Someone should.) Nic Cage’s blond hair is delightfully ridiculous and there’s no way a movie with this plot should have been so dull. Dumb fun is A-ok with me, but I just didn’t have fun. I’d give Drive Angry 2 stars.
Does it pass the Bechdel?
The women only ever converse about men and then only about sex with men. All other female to female interaction is repeated punches to the face.
Jenny Dreadful: I was genuinely surprised this film didn’t pass when there were so many female characters kicking ass and interacting with each other. Why is this so hard?
Would I recommend?
There are better films about cars and there are better films about demons. Go watch them instead.