By Colin Moore
Here’s one for you, a film that requires a certain kind of audience. You’ll know in the opening seconds if you’re one of the faithful, the kind that smirks when a man’s hand is blasted off his forearm.
Milton (Nicolas Cage) is a bad ass in black, at home with fast cars and wild women, and groomed in the likeness of Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger. But he’s also a bad ass nearly incapable of turning a frown upside down. For that though he has a reason. He’s dead. Milton has been killed and sent to hell, one complete with red flames and jagged gorges. But even worse than eternal suffering is his being able to see the pain experienced by those he’s left behind, namely his daughter. In Milton’s absence, she’s fallen in with a Satanic cult, been murdered by its self-proclaimed Southern messiah Jonah King (Billy Burke), and now her infant daughter is the planned centerpiece of a ritual sacrifice. By knife of course. Under a full moon of course. To open a gateway to the netherworld of course. Luckily for Earth, hell has an exit door, and muscle cars! Milton motors his way back to the mortal world to kick ass, drive under the influence of anger, and save the grand-daughter he’s never known.
Exploitation cinema rose to popularity during the 60s and 70s, often sensationalizing those immoral elements (sex, violence, drug use) considered taboo by mainstream Hollywood. Based on a grocery list of common exploitation film must-haves, ”Drive Angry” almost measures up. It tries to measure up, with its roadside diners, girlfriend-beating fiancés and scrappy sexy heroines (Amber Heard). Its vision of America is irreformable, hyper-violent and over-sexed. Deaths come mercilessly and creatively (if a baseball bat through the eyeball qualifies), cussing flavors pedestrian dialogue, and heroes aren’t so much good as lesser evil, to which Milton certainly qualifies. He shoots to kill and not always because he has to. Is this the America of today or a feared future? All in all, the film doesn’t much care. When Milton celebrates his victory by drinking a beer from his enemy’s skull cap, it’s safe to say we’re not being encouraged to lead more gentle lives. The movie does drop a moral or two along the way – “In the end, they (bad ass mother f***ers) will all be accounted for” – but they’re easily forgotten inside the violence.
But fans of classic exploitation films and even the recent Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse double feature will probably notice something. If an homage to grindhouse movies at all, ”Drive Angry” seems lost, not intentionally “bad” enough (or low budget enough) to get those disbelieving laughs and not raw enough to keep the nerves on edge. It’s unsure of itself, straddling the line between old-school exploitation and modern day action film. There are pluses though. William Fitchner (”The Perfect Storm”) is darkly comical as a kind of T-1000 bounty hunter from hell called the Accountant, but the rest plays like a bag of maternity clothing – oversized and unwearable. Sometimes less is more.
Commentary by Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer is amusing and informative; a couple of both amusing and informative featurettes; and deleted scenes with commentary.