Drive Angry 3D is trash. It’s batshit insane, ludicrous, bonkers, and at times pretty damn cheap in how it tugs the entertainment out of its viewer. It doesn’t go for the heart, the brain, or even the solar plexus. It kicks the shins, grabs the balls, and tickles the asshole as it coaxes laughs and thrills as it goes as over the top as it possibly can in order to win you over.
And it does. It wins you over in a big way and not despite the reasons I mentioned above but because of them. Batshit insanity is a virtue in the case of this movie.
Drive Angry 3D is a really good time at the movies. A lot of that stems from William Fichtner’s [my interview from 2008] classy, cool, and somehow adorable performance as Hell’s accountant. He’s sometimes curious and chatty, sometimes cryptic and taciturn, and sometimes menacing but the one thing that makes this a performance that will [finally] introduce a whole new audience to one of our great character actors is how crisply and confidently he balances out the gritty and messy violence and dialogue with his performance. He totally gets what writer/director Patrick Lussier is trying to do and creates a much needed counter to Nicolas Cage’s grim and gritty antihero and Amber Heard’s foulmouthed and frisky heroine. It’s Cage’s name on the poster but it’s Fichtner who’ll stimulate warm memories when the film is remembered.
Cage is John Milton [yeah, they dug deep], a man who has escaped Hell to bring justice to a Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke, also known as Harry Hamlin 2k). King lured Cage’s estranged daughter into his sect and when she tried to escape he took her newborn baby and slashed her throat to send a message. That message was: You just died. Milton doesn’t talk much, enjoys his coffee with sugar, has no problems decimating limbs, and isn’t above getting a piece of ass along the way provided it doesn’t interfere with a gunfight. As Cage performances go this is one of the ones that suit his skill set at this point in his career. He embraces the cheese, shows a little dash of the charm that made him a star, and still looks good when delivering grievous bodily harm. Films like this are the epicenter of his wheelhouse.
Reason you should love this movie: The film’s villain carries Cage’s daughter’s fucking FEMUR around with him as a cane. There aren’t many things that haven’t been done, but daughter femur accessorizing is one of them.
Amber Heard is Piper, a waitress at a diner who likes muscle cars, sex, and philanthropy. Well, she buys muffins for a poor family which is at least backwater philanthropy*. She’s aimless and her idea of romance is withholding sex from her unemployed bald boyfriend [co-writer Todd Farmer, a CHUD fave] to force him to propose. She’s a rough girl but one unwilling to make excuses. And she can fight, a fact the movie showcases no less than five times. Heard is not only terribly sexy in the movie, she’s also convincing in her role. This astonished me, because the tough chick is something overdone in genre films and rarely interesting or effective. Heard pulls it off and it’s huge for the movie because she gets a lot of screen time and she could have been a big albatross.
Reason you should love this movie: They had the common decency to give Tom Atkins a prominent role.
The aforementioned Hamlin-alike’s Jonah King is a weird character. There are times when he feels far too slight to be the villain of the piece (luckily Fichtner’s there to offset his presence) and others where they don’t fully sell the “rock star” appeal of the guy as a cult leader but it somehow works. Billy Burke is not the kind of actor built to hold the screen but he’s helped by a few nice one-liners [the ‘grapefruit’ one connected with my audience] and a rather funny aloofness in even the most heated situations that keeps him interesting. He’s a weird choice but it helps that he’s surrounded by the weirdest assortment of cultists an audience could want. It is a hilariously diverse and odd bunch and it feeds the notion that this film is completely in love with not taking itself seriously. Yes, a child sacrifice and the end of the world factors into the plot but it’s the silliest child sacrifice movie ever.
Reason you should love this movie: The climactic sendoff that I won’t spoil is so looney and delightfully crazy it out SamRaimis Sam Raimi. Hint: There’s a jaw and a vortex. YOU ARE WELCOME.
Then there’s William Fichtner. As The Accountant he gets all the choice moments [the sort of infamous “sex shootout” is fun but doesn’t get nearly taboo enough to earn any real praise other than for the fact it exists] and there’s not one element of his performance that lacks. He’s having so much fun but with such a great poker face some folks may think he’s not in on the joke. If this film is somehow successful, the sky’s the limit for the possibilities for Fichtner and Cage to become a really effective franchise duo.
It’ll never happen, but he’s that good.
The film rollicks along with equal portions of car chases, gunfights, fistfights, and little character moments in a manner that doesn’t allow how dumb it all is to seep in too much. It’s uneven at times and it tries too hard in the first twenty minutes but credit where it’s due: Patrick Lussier does a really good job of delivering fare for fans of exploitation movies and traditional genre fans alike. He uses the 3-D in a wide variety of ways and there were long stretches where I forgot I was wearing glasses and was enjoying the mayhem and then all of a sudden bullets are shot into my eyes in rapid succession. It works, and Lussier definitely moves a few notches up the directorial chart here.
I’m a fan of 3-D. I have no problems with it at all. It’s a tool. Yes, post-conversion is often crap. Yes, Hollywood has used it as a crutch or marketing gimmick. Regardless, 3-D when used well or embraced for its heightened contribution to the experience is a joy. This movie, like Piranha 3-D before it, is why the medium has a life and a future.
Reason you should love this movie: Moral compass? David Morse. Case fucking closed.
Drive Angry 3D lives in the same bizarre subgenre between action, sexploitation, and genre flick that films like Shoot ‘em Up, Crank, Machete, and Torque reside in but it just seems a little less concerned with its place in history or how cool it is. It’s messy as hell and in no hurry to clean it up. It’s a mash-up of Garth Ennis, Sam Raimi, and Hal Needham.
And that’s pretty charming.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
* That’s a good Halo name.