Nicolas Cage’s character, John Milton, is an obvious reference to the seventeenth century English poet most famous for crafting Paradise Lost, an epic about none other than hell. Dudes, Drive Angry has got that going on, too, not that you’d know it from the advertising. Summit Entertainment played up the film being shot in 3-D (which ultimately couldn’t boost its disappointing returns), but the studio gave no hints that a seemingly standard revenge flick was a kitschy B-movie throwback with a Satanic bent. Cage’s Milton is a demon in disguise, having recently busted outta Hell Prison in his primo ride to thwart a cult’s planned sacrifice. The cult leader, played to absurdity by Billy Burke, resembles one of Neil Diamond’s biggest fans and likely his only one with a bitten off penis. The bitter? None other than Cage’s daughter, whom Burke killed with a straight razor in one of several peyote-laced flashback sequences. B-MOVIE.
If that plot preview wasn’t enough, let me tell you the script for this is a real piece. So is the dialogue. And its special effects are certainly ‘special.’ The problem is deciding how much is intentional in director Patrick Lussier’s $50 million throwback. Over-the-top violence runs the gamut from decapitating car rampages to a mid-coitus shootout that sees Cage never once pull out. And if that wasn’t enough, the pirate-shirted Billy Burke announces his supreme evilness to the world by fashioning a walking stick from a femur bone. This even has the balls to bombard your ears with terrible ZZ Top-styled guitar fills, some of which seem ripped straight from a Kid Rock “Cowboy” instrumental. Toss a bunch of terrible looking computerized shrapnel at the audience in a gigantic aspect ratio, and it’s clear this is aping smaller budget misfits.
But does it work, holmes? Si, but only on occasion. Drive Angry’s weird mythology, where demons exclusively use vintage automobiles for transportation William Fichtner is very fun as the Accountant, a rival demon on a quest similar to Cage’s own. And anytime Fichtner or underrated hottie Amber Heard are on screen, they’re often entertaining despite the terrible material. Due credit goes to Heard here, who makes a wedding cake from a manure pile’s worth of material. Although her turn is the most admirable by a longshot, the strength of her performance doesn’t quite fit a film that’s an ugly mashup of Ghost Rider, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Season of the Witch. So I guess I’m saying her talent makes this film… worse? I AM GOING INSANE.
The man of the hour is phenomenally awful in this. I’d like to give Cage the benefit of the doubt and describe the mannequin impression he puts on as another conscious choice to dumb down the quality. But again like much of Drive Angry, I’m not sure, and that becomes a problem. Cage looks terrible here. A blonde dye job is wretched with his slowly disappearing hairline, and he sports the furthest thing from those washboard Johnny Blaze abs. Not to mention much of his dialogue is reduced to one-liners and stiff declamatory phrases. In contrast to Fichtner or Heard, Cage looks impressively bored with a such an insane idea.
To his credit, I was pretty bored, too. It’s an intriguing premise — and not at all what I expected — but Lussier’s execution is questionable at best. Drive Angry’s crazy universe is as intriguing as it is zany, but anytime it veers too sharply from it, the contrasting material suffers. This is too uneven, and hiding behind B-movie fun (when it pops up) isn’t a fair excuse. It’s just a cop out.
* * * * *
Want more Cage? You got it.