a critiQal film review Drive Angry (2011)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After a vicious cult murdered his daughter and kidnaps her daughter, Milton (Cage) escapes from Hell in order to stop them before they sacrifice the baby. Accompanied by a waitress (Heard), he's hot on their trail. But, with the police and the savage, Devil sent "Accountant" (Fichtner) after him, Milton doesn't have much time at all.

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For years now, Nic Cage seems to take whatever role comes his way. Whether it turns out promising (National Treasure (2004)) or downright awful (Bangkok Dangerous (2008)) doesn’t really seem to matter. He just wants to keep his face in the public eye and continue working.

His latest, Drive Angry is no exception. While we’ve seen Nic Cage playing the gruff warrior before (Ghost Rider (2007)), he thankfully manages to make the character at least a little more appealing this time around, even if he still seems ill-suited for the part. His glee at discovering another clue in National Treasure (2004) was contagious, but all of his acts in Drive Angry – despite their ultimate goal – are neither infectious nor totally believable.

He plays a “bad” man escaped from Hell to hunt down the sadistic fiends who killed his daughter and kidnapped her child. The character seems to be much more of a avenging angel than a killer in his own right, making the idea he has been imprisoned in Hell an oddity. That is compounded later as the viewer is told he’s basically been wrongfully imprisoned – something that seems out of place with the very definition of Hell.

Even his semi-teammate, Amber Heard’s foul-mouthed waitress Piper, seems like a bad decision. At first, the odd circumstances they find themselves in look to lead them into developing an odd couple-esque relationship. But, her sudden willingness to break the law and thwart authority at every turn (even killing two cops with a “magic bullet” trajectory that puts Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) ruminations to shame), it’s obvious she’s around only for looks and shock value. It’s a vaguely interesting combination that the viewer will tire of after the second or third foul-mouthed outburst.

And then there’s the satanic cult leader, played by Billy Burke. His version of a bad guy supposedly scary enough to draw someone out of Hell to track him down isn’t what viewers will expect. He calls to mind someone like disgraced preacher Jim Baker, not anything frightening. Even when he’s being shown doing awful things, he seems more egocentric than soulless, which makes him more somebody to pity than something to actually fear. In the viewer’s eye, he’s a pushover that makes Nic Cage’s character look like a wuss for not being able to stop him easily during their first meeting – something that makes a film about a criminal escaped from the depths of Hell incredibly pointless. After all, why pull out the guns for this punk? Any Gomer Pyle could handle him.

William Fichtner, on the other hand, is a delight as “The Accountant”, a quietly vicious Hell demon hunting down his prey (Nic Cage). Unlike Cage’s rage-against-the-machine avenger, Fichtner pulls in a quiet authority and nonchalance that belie the cobra-like viciousness underneath. He’s the real crowd-pleaser in this film, and, whether he’s whistling while plowing a ginormous truck straight at a police barricade, or calmly extricating himself from a car that has recently fallen off a bridge, he showcases an immortality that viewers will find entirely appealing.

With Fichtner stealing the show, Nic Cage’s avenger gets to step into the background on occasion. That’s a good thing, as he isn’t able to do much except look gruff and grunt. Sadly, he does open his mouth quite a bit, allowing any chance he had to make his character seem actually dangerous to be snuffed out like a candle in the strong wind of reality.

With Nic Cage lost in his own world of make-believe (I think I can play a Hell escapee! I think I can!), Amber Heard’s foul-mouth attached to an eye candy body shtick wearing thin quickly, and the villain coming across as nothing more than a freaky-deaky pushover, the film – aside from the scene-stealing Fichtner – has to rely on truly pathetic special effects (woo – the bullets are coming straight at the screen – I’ve never seen that before! Yeah, right) and more explosions than you could shake a fist at to make the viewer stay interested. Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t quite work.

Drive Angry is another bad Nic Cage film. It’s only deeming grace is Fichtner, and viewers will spend most of the film wishing he had more screen time than Nic Cage and his co-hort Amber Heard. Keep the same story, but shift the focus to his Hell demon search, and leave Nic Cage and co-horts for brief snippets (and a big ending sequence), and Drive Angry could have been giddily entertaining.

Even Fichtner’s performance can’t save this explosion-packed, shlocky pic from becoming anything more than just another in a long line of failed action pics. This is despite it’s attempt to abuse old 3D gimmicks (dating back to the days of those white cardboard glasses with the colored lenses) in the process. Frankly, viewers expect a lot more than that from even cheap action-for-action’s sake pics like Drive Angry.

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