There is an art to camp. It’s not enough to simply have the director wink to the audience and say “Yeah, we know this is terrible, but we’re having dumb fun so laugh god-dammit.“ Just because you’re making something trashy, doesn’t mean you have the license to give up quality filmmaking. Director Patrick Lussier understands the difference between trashy filmmaking and trashy fun and that’s the reason his film Drive Angry is such a delight. The script is unapologetically dumb, everything is cranked up to 11, and while everyone is clearly having a good time, no one is slacking off. That’s the art to Drive Angry and it’s why it will likely build a devoted cult following in the years to come.
John Milton (Nicolas Cage) has broken out of hell to avenge his daughter’s death at the hands of Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke). Milton must also save his granddaughter before King spills the infant’s blood at the full moon and brings on the apocalypse. On his journey, Milton saves tough chick Piper (Amber Heard) who decides to tag along, but he’s also being hunted by The Accountant (William Fichtner) who is determined to bring Milton back to hell. Along the way, there’s a lot of blood, a lot of breasts, a lot of carnage, and a hell of a good time.
The tragedy of Nicolas Cage is that he can’t give up his dream of being an action star. His best performances of the last decade haven’t been blockbusters, but character dramas that encourage him to, you know, act. The expectation with Drive Angry is that Cage will pull a Wicker Man and go way over the top. But Cage understands that in a movie where cheap CGI is flying out of the screen (Drive Angry was originally released in 3D) plus gore-n-boobs a-plenty, he needs to just be the grizzled, man-on-a-mission center.
He leaves the theatrics to Fichtner who gives a performance that would make Christopher Walken proud. Fichtner chews the scenery, punctuates his lines with bizarre syllabic emphasis and pauses, knows he’s cooler than everyone else on screen, and carries himself as you would expect an indestructible bureaucrat of hell to behave. The Accountant is bored by humanity, but the bravado and silliness Fichtner brings to the role makes you itch to see another scene featuring The Accountant.
And while “tough gal” roles are a dime a dozen and usually rely too heavily on sex and end up failing to sell the character’s strength, Heard gets the right balance. She’s sexy as hell in Drive Angry but she’s feisty and not in a contrived way. When her ex-boyfriend punches her in the face after she tries to leave him, she’s on the ground with blood coming out of her mouth and nose and what does she do? She laughs back in his face (she also gets in a few good hits herself). While the film does rely heavily on Milton having to save her, Piper never comes off as truly helpless and she seems willing to fight and until the death.
When you have three strong performances at the center of the film (four if you count Billy Burke’s campy villainy), then there’s a foundation to build a truly ridiculous film. If the performers are invested in their characters, then we’re invested, and the movie can throw as much ridiculous crap at us as it wants because it’s anchored. From there, Lussier is free to have scenes where Nicolas Cage simultaneously has a gun fight and fucks a big-fake-tittied waitress. We can enjoy a scene where Fichtner walks in on one of Jonah’s cult members who’s kneecaps have been blown apart and exclaim, “Whoa! Those are fucked!” We welcome Katy Mixon acting like the world’s sluttiest waitress when Cage enters her diner because we know we’re going over the top and if you’re going over the top, it’s go big or go home. Drive Angry goes as big as it can on the budget it has and accomplishes what it sets out to do.
There are plenty of bad action movies that try to pretend like they wanted to be terrible all along and that’s why no one put in any effort. There are also plenty of awful Nicolas Cage action films. Drive Angry is neither, but I understand why folks would have that perception and that’s why it tanked at the box office. But now the film is out on Blu-ray and it’s a big bag of trashy fun that deserves to be on your shelf.
The visuals look gorgeous to the point where it almost works against the movie. Every piece of crummy CG that flies towards the screen is pristine and somehow looks even faker than it did when I saw it in 3D. But Drive Angry has a colorful palette that really comes alive and Summit has done an outstanding job on this transfer. The audio is equally impressive with a mix that will give your speakers a workout while still doing a great job delivering dialogue and the brief moments when something isn’t being fired or exploded. However, the special features are a little weak. There’s a serviceable commentary from Lussier (fighting through laryngitis) and co-writer Todd Farmer, but it’s not a must-hear track. There are a couple of fun deleted scenes with optional commentary, and then there’s the “Access: Drive Angry” track which pops-up interviews, trivia, and neatest of all, track Milton’s bodycount. That one I particularly enjoyed.