"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DVD of the Week: Drive Angry

Continuing his string of paycheck movies, Drive Angry (2011) is actually closer to the gonzo Nicolas Cage of old than the diluted actor we’ve come to expect in films like Next (2007) and Knowing (2009). With Drive Angry, he’s made a full-on, balls-out cult film that flopped spectacularly at the box office and was trashed by the critics. It has all the necessary ingredients of cult status: loads of ultra violence, nudity, lots of cussing, and all kinds of character actors chewing up the scenery. The film is the brainchild of Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, the former a B-horror director responsible for efforts like Dracula III: Legacy (2005) and My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009). While the latter film was an unnecessary remake of the 1980’s Canadian slasher film of the same name, it did hint at the garish excesses Lussier was capable of and has finally delivered with Drive Angry.

The film begins with John Milton (Nicolas Cage) literally escaping from hell in a badass muscle car. He is trying to avenge his daughter’s murder and rescue her kidnapped baby from Jonah King (Billy Burke), the sadistic leader of a satanic cult. In the first five minutes, Milton totals a pick-up truck with three flunkies in a way that is so gloriously and stylishly over-the-top that it would make Robert Rodriguez green with envy. While his film, Machete (2010), paid homage to exploitation films, Drive Angry is one, only with A-list talent. Milton crosses paths with Piper (Amber Heard), a tough ex-waitress who has recently broken up with her deadbeat boyfriend (Todd Farmer in a cameo). Hot on their trail is a man known only as the Accountant (William Fichtner), a dapper minion from Hell come to bring Milton back.

Inspired by another cartoonish action film, Shoot ‘Em Up (2007), Drive Angry also features a gun battle while the protagonist is having sex only captured in slow motion and cheekily scored to “You Want the Candy” by the Raveonettes. While excessively violent and gory, the action sequences are all so overtly stylish that they can’t be taken too seriously. This film is akin to a blood-drenched, R-rated cartoon. The violence isn’t cruel and mean-spirited like in a torture porn horror film, but rather gleefully petulant like the guys who orchestrated all of this mayhem grew up reading Fangoria in the ‘80s.

Surrounded by all of this garish style and crazed violence, Nicolas Cage wisely underplays his role, going for the calm, collected man of action. He’s matched up perfectly with the always watchable William Fichtner who seems to be channeling Christopher Walken with his wonderfully eccentric performance. He looks to be having an absolute blast with this role and steals every scene he’s in with his unfailingly polite yet very lethal character. Billy Burke is suitably sinister as a religious fanatic and the beautiful Amber Heard holds her own as a two-fisted, curse-like-a-sailor sidekick to Cage’s undead avenger. David Morse even shows up using his considerable skill as an actor to make a chunk of exposition dialogue palatable.

Drive Angry has everything you could want from a trashy action film: cool muscle cars, over-the-top shoot-outs, larger than life baddies, and a cool good guy with a mission. All of this is handled ably by Lussier in what is easily his most accomplished film to date. He gleefully sticks a middle finger in the face of political correctness with a film that is more entertaining than it had any right to be. Cage needs to do more films like this and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), which harken back to the eccentric characters he played early on in his career.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by director Patrick Lussier and co-screenwriter Todd Farmer. Lussier jokingly refers to Drive Angry as his “subtle, gentle road movie,” and battles through a bad case of laryngitis, which makes it difficult, at times, to understand what he’s trying to say. But he soldiers on with Farmer as they talk about how the film was made. The two men tell all kinds of filming anecdotes as they talk us through filming. Lussier points out that Clint Eastwood’s protagonist in High Plains Drifter (1973) was the model for Cage’s character. They give shout-outs to various crew members’ contributions on this solid track.

“How To: Drive Angry” is one of the better promotional featurettes. Amazingly, the studio gave the filmmakers the creative freedom to do a hard R-rated supernatural action film. They talk about shooting in 3D as opposed to converting it in post-production. The filmmakers also talk about working with a modest budget and solving certain problems creatively as opposed to throwing a lot of money at it a la Michael Bay. It’s nice to see that many of the stunts in the film were done practically.

“Milton’s Mayhem” is an amusing extra that compiles all of Milton’s action sequences and attributes a point system to every punch and gunshot like something out of a video game.

Finally, there are two deleted scenes with optional commentary by Lussier and Farmer. We see a little more with Piper and her boyfriend and another scene with the Accountant that were both rightly cut.


  1. Bravo, J.D.! Glad you enjoyed this one. I'm one of the few who saw this at the theater (partly due Bryce's recommendation). I really enjoyed the hell out of this one. Between the language, gratuitous violence/nudity/sex, and live action car stunts, it made my day. So much so, I could only groan when the thankfully rare bad CGI showed up. I had to appreciate, too, the nice use of the old muscle cars. Have you noticed the deployment of the grand old Chevelle SS in some genre productions of late? I noted the SS in this film and FASTER, and even in an episode of the recently concluded JUSTIFIED series on FX. I used to own a Chev Malibu years ago so when its SS cousin makes an appearance, it catches my eye.

    I agree, too, that Cage needs to do more of this type balls-to-the-wall work. I'm looking forward to picking up the Blu-ray Disc of this and taking in that the subtle, nuanced work the filmmakers comment on ;-). And yeah, I can now see the HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER influence in all of its fun mayhem. Love William Fichtner's stint in this. So much fun. Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks for that review, I've been curious for this one from day one, precisely because it has that b-movie feel to it! I'll be renting it soon, sad to hear it tanked at the box office, I love it when fun movies like these get made.

  3. Yes! This is my DVD pick this week as well.


    Great write-up! Can't wait to watch this on DVD later today.

  4. Great Review! This was a lot of fun! Nic Cage should make more movies like this.

  5. I’m glad there are other people out there who liked this movie. It’s definitely less than conservative, cheesy, and downright over-the-top at times but serves as a nice break from reality. I ordered it on Pay-Per-View but almost missed it when I took longer than anticipated at the office. Thankfully, I work for DISH so I took a break and used their TV Everywhere to watch the movie on my iPhone. It was a much needed break from work and everyday stresses.

  6. Thanks for the review. I checked it out last night based on your write up and it certainly lived up to what you wrote. Cage fills in the partperfectly, his over the topness being perfect for a hell escapee, and Fichtner was just great. Exactly what it claims to be, and an enjoyable watch for sure!

  7. le0pard13:

    Ah, you got to see this in the theater? And in 3D I take it? After watching the DVD I really regret not catching this one on the big screen.

    Good call on the use of the Chevelle SS! I hadn't noticed that but you're right.

    And isn't Fichtner just awesome in this film? Thanks for the kind words, my friend.

    The Film Connoisseur:

    I think you'll dig this film a lot! It pushes all the right buttons and is just plain, unadulterated fun.


    Great minds think alike! I will definitely check out your review.


    I completely agree with you.


    Good to hear that you enjoyed this film also.


    I figured you would probably enjoy this film. For what it is, it's an enjoyable romp. The filmmakers set out to do nothing more than make a fun thrill ride/cult film and they certainly succeeded.

  8. Saw this at the drive-in and it crashed and burned even there. Cage is always interesting, Fichtner steals the film and Heard is a total nerdy screenwriter fantasy. THated the whole stupid scene where she punches out the naked girl. he film tried way too hard. Nice to see Tom Atkins tho.

  9. Hi J.D.

    Great write up of this film. I finally saw it the other night and pretty much hated every minute of it; so it's interesting to read another perspective, one more forgiving of the film's eccentricities.

    I felt the movie aimed to be some sort of white-trash epic poem, but that the predictable beats of the script kept Drive Angry from being a very good film. At about the hour point, it was pretty clear where it was headed, and the movie seemed to be driving not angry, but on auto pilot. Despite this, it was nice to see David Morse and Tom Atkins in supporting roles, and I felt Nic Cage was in strong form here.


  10. Great review. I also saw this in 3D, alone in a deserted theater. It flopped partly due to being released almost exclusively in 3D aside from a few drive-ins. A shame, beacause it's a very enjoyable, straight-forward action film. I was expecting more car chases with a title like Drive Angry. Cage was fine as usual, but a bit subdued. The more over-the-top, insane Cage performance we all know and love would have helped here.
    Fichtner's Accountant character was awesome, didn't he remind you of the Mayhem guy from the Allstate ads?

  11. christian:

    I really can't argue with your criticism except to say that they didn't bother me one iota. The film was big, dumb goofy fun from the get-go. I would like a film to try too hard then half-ass it or not try at all, which is so prevalent these days.

    John Kenneth Muir:

    Hated it, eh? Oh well...

    "White-trash epic poem"! Heh. That's great! While I certainly agree that the film followed some pretty predictable beats it did so in an entertaining fashion. I certainly was never bored, which is faint praise, I suppose.


    Thanks! Yeah, good point - releasing it almost exclusively in 3D wasn't the smartest move in the world and certainly hurt its box office chances, big time. A more insane Cage would've been awesome, I think. Y'know, I hadn't thought of the guy from the All State mayhem ads but you're right! There were definite shades of that. Love those ads, btw.

    Thanks for stopping by.