It’s a bit ironic to see Nicolas Cage come out with a B-movie that’s ravaged by critics and ignored by audiences on Oscar weekend when at one time he was a highly regarded actor who won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Actor for LEAVING LAS VEGAS. It’s a classic example of the once mighty who have now fallen. I did see DRIVE ANGRY and I even paid the few extra bucks to see it in 3D. Why? Because I still enjoy seeing Nicolas Cage return from time to time to his wild and bad boy form. Because DRIVE ANGRY is the sort of B-movie schlock that I love to see, especially when it involves car chases, calm as fuck bad guys dressed in black suits, girls dressed like sluts, and a hellacious soundtrack. DRIVE ANGRY is the sort of movie that’s made for cinema geeks who also happen to love comic books and heavy metal. In some aspects, DRIVE ANGRY delivers what it promises, but it ends up falling on its own sword and turns into a surprisingly boring mess.

The premise of this film is pretty simple. Nicolas Cage is Milton (not much subtlety in this film if you can’t already tell). We learn that Milton used to be a very bad man who got locked up in prison for doing a very bad thing, but we don’t know what that thing is so its probably safe to assume it was murder. The prison that houses him also happens to be in hell. While he’s locked up, Milton’s daughter joins a Satanic cult whose leader (Billy Burke) murders her and takes her baby to sacrifice her to the devil. Enraged by his daughter’s murder, Milton escapes from prison to exact revenge on the cult leader and rescue his baby granddaughter. On his heels is the Accountant (William Fichtner), who helps the devil recover those who try to escape from hell. Helping Milton on his mission is a dirty-mouthed waitress (Amber Heard) and his old chum (David Morse).

Any movie that introduces its character to Peaches’ “Fuck Me Gently” deserves at least 1 star. DRIVE ANGRY introduces Amber Heard’s waitress character to this song and from then on you get a pretty good idea what the tone of this movie is going to be. DRIVE ANGRY takes full advantage of its R-rating by providing as much sex and violence as it can muster and it does it in wonderous over-the-top fashion. This film isn’t for everyone, especially for those who get offended easily. DRIVE ANGRY is best seen as part of a double feature with something like SIN CITY or BLUE VELVET and in the seediest movie theater you can possibly find. Unfortunately, such accommodations no longer exist in San Jose so I had to make do with the ancient Century Theaters that I’ve been visiting since I was 5 years old.

My friend Alen has described Nicolas Cage’s current career path perfectly. For every 6th film, Cage seems to produce a golden nugget, but we have to suffer through 5 shit awful films to get to that one noteworthy movie. Last year, Cage starred in the most excellent KICK-ASS, but he then came out with two unwatchable horrible messes with THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE and SEASON OF THE WITCH. Based on Cage’s career trajectory, DRIVE ANGRY looked to be one of Cage’s golden nuggets. The trailer was promising enough as it featured Cage go into the quirky mode that we’ve seen in such films as RAISING ARIZONA, WILD AT HEART, RED ROCK WEST, and SNAKE EYES. However good he has been in his more dramatic and serious films of the past, the Cage that I love to see the most is the unpredictable, crazy man. So you can imagine how disappointed I was to see Nicolas Cage instead dial in a half-assed performance that clearly seemed like the only thing motivating him to do this film was getting a paycheck. Apart from a few iconic Cage moments (in one scene Milton is screwing a waitress while smoking a cigar and not giving a shit while a bunch of bad guys barge into his room with guns blazing), you will be sorely disappointed by how badly he sleepwalks through this movie.

Fortunately, we have William Fichtner to pick up the slack. If it weren’t for him, DRIVE ANGRY would be a walk-out-of-the-movie-theater kind of mess. Some of you may be wondering who the hell William Fichtner is. Rest assured, that you have seen him in many movies and you have probably even enjoyed him in most of those films. I first remember seeing Fichtner in CONTACT, where he plays a blind scientist who is a colleague of Jodie Foster’s character (coincidentally, David Morse, who is also in this movie, also appeared in CONTACT as Jodie Foster’s dad). He has been in a ton of shit such as ARMAGEDDON, GO, THE PERFECT STORM, BLACK HAWK DOWN, and briefly in THE DARK KNIGHT. I regard him as one of the best character actors working today. Never to let a fan down, Fichtner owns every frame of every scene that he appears in. As the Accountant, he plays one of Satan’s helpers who manages the hellish prison that Cage is in. His character sort of reminds me as a more sinister version of the Men in Black (obviously, he wearing the same black suit that the Men in Black wear helps to make this connection). The Accountant has an odd and dry sense of humor that immediately connected with me. What is more, for much of the film, you don’t know exactly what he does, who he is, or what sort of powers he possesses. All you know is that he is hunting down Milton. Despite its simplicity, this was an effective subplot that propelled an otherwise limp film forward.

Another character that I really enjoyed was Amber Heard’s character. Instead of the nitwitted damsel in distress, Heard plays an ass-kicking, independent woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone. A female character of this sort is a rare thing to see in a genre like this and it was refreshing to see a female lead with as much substance (if not more) as Cage’s character. At the same time, don’t expect DRIVE ANGRY to make a statement about female empowerment. The rest of the women featured in this film not only play up all the stereotypes of female characters, but one in particular is portrayed in the same demeaning fashion that you see in porn films. Of course, given the film’s predominantly male audience demographic, this shouldn’t come as any surprise.

DRIVE ANGRY’s biggest drawback also happens to be the main plot of the film. Nevermind the strangeness of a story that revolves around some guy’s daughter who joins a Satanic cult and whose daughter gets kidnapped by the cult’s leader for sacrifice. Had the cult leader been played by a more charismatic and more talented actor, then perhaps we may have had a story worth giving two shits about. As it stands, however, the plot coupled with Billy Burke’s horrendous acting plays out like some late night Cinemax film. Its not interesting in the least bit and I felt it really dragged the 2nd act beyond redemption. Worse, it doesn’t even make much sense. For example, why is the cult traveling to some barren junkyard to perform the baby’s sacrifice? What’s more, all the characters always seem to know where everyone else is. I know the film is meant to defy logic, but its not entirely fantastical so there is some tiny level of realism that necessarily must ground the film. With that in mind, its highly implausible that with all these characters traveling up and down the state of Louisiana, they would find each other with such ease.

DRIVE ANGRY is not a good film. In fact, it tries to be so bad that it wants you to think its good. Instead, the film falls in that middle, uninspired, forgettable region of quality. You can tell the filmmakers are hoping that this film will someday become a cult classic. It just might attain that status, but I seriously doubt it. If you’re looking for over the top violence, nudity, and gore and thats all you’re looking for, then this might be your film. However, don’t be expecting the 70’s revenge film that the filmmaker clearly intended this movie to be. For that, DRIVE ANGRY needed to go even farther and it unfortunately does not.

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