Saturday, July 9, 2011
Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Katy Mixon, David Morse, Billy Burke, Charlotte Ross, Tom Atkins
Running Time: 105 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
It must be nice being Nicolas Cage. Getting paid millions of dollars to star in any mindless action movie of your choosing with crazy hair opposite women half your age isn't such a bad deal. Regardless of whether you call it Drive Angry, Drive Angry 3D, or Tarantino's missing third feature from Grindhouse, the actor's latest is more Nic Cage being Nic Cage. But at least say this for him: He always "sells out" in an entertaining and hilarious way, crafting an insane onscreen persona that works for him. No matter how awful his choices in material sometimes are, even his worst performances are still strangely fascinating. Against your better judgment, you find you just can't turn away and anxiously anticipate what crazy thing he'll do next. I can get on board when the filmmakers at least extend us the courtesy of going along with the joke. Patrick Lussier's Crank-style homage joins the actor's recent Kick-Ass and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in really "getting it." And if you like scuzzy, violent B-level grindhouse flicks doubling as gothic horror action-comedies, then this is your thing. You also get performances better than you'd think a movie of this ilk deserves, which makes sense looking at the credits. With actors like crazy Cage, Amber Heard, David Morse and an incomparable William Fichtner sharing the screen together, I'm wondering whether it even stood a chance of not working despite how ridiculous it all is.
Cage plays John Milton, a lone drifter and felon who saves a hot, young waitress named Piper (Heard) from her abusive boyfriend, taking her along on his manhunt to track down Satantic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke). He's in possession of Milton's granddaughter and is planning to offer her up as a sacrifice unless he can somehow find a way to stop him. Following Milton is a mysterious stranger with paranormal powers known as The Accountant (Fichtner) who clearly wants something from him, even though we're not exactly sure what right away or even whose side he's on. All we know is that he's creepy, hilarious and comes armed with plenty of sarcastic one-liners, which is more than enough since he's easily the best thing in the film and deserving of a sequel of his own. The plot ends up being even more over-the-top and silly than could have been expected from the honest previews and just gets even sillier once all the crazy details of Milton's bizarre situation start to surface. That info starts clarifying things a little, but it's not like that makes much of a difference since the balls-to-the-wall action scenes carry the most interest, and a lot of them are real keepers, namely Milton shooting at intruders while he's busy getting it on with a waitress. We also get to watch what must be the most fatalistic gun shot to not kill anybody, even though we know exactly why not.
For better or worse, you get what you pay for each time out with Cage regardless of the trashy material he often onto and this is no exception, except for the fact that it knows how ludicrous it is. As usual Cage is just having a silly, dumb time imitating himself imitating Clint Eastwood and not taking anything seriously, which in this case works perfectly fine. We get to see him shoot people, listen to him talk in his goofy Cage voice and have a good laugh at his latest hair disaster so all is well. The always busy Amber Heard, whose star continues to burn brighter with each performance, stretches to play trailer trash perfectly while surprisingly never falling into the thankless love interest trap. She's as much an ass-kicker as he is, which should come as a relief for anyone who thought she was only cast so Cage could add to his laundry list of age inappropriate female co-stars. Billy Burke gets the job done as the crazed Koresh-like cult leader (even if he more closely resembles Rick Springfield) but the film belongs to well-traveled character actor William Fichtner, who gets a chance to show those unfamiliar with his work what they've been missing and blows Cage off the screen. Best known on the big screen as the bank manager who stands up to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight and on the small screen with appearances on Invasion, Prison Break and Entourage, this is the first time he's really been cut loose in a senseless big budget action movie. And of course Fichtner makes the most maniacal thing about his maniac character the fact that he doesn't act maniacal at all. Few can play cool, calm and creepy better, and not nearly with as much dry wit. The entire movie ends up being a well-deserved showcase for him, as he approaches scene-stealing levels of eccentricity that should make Christopher Walken proud. Unfortunately, David Morse isn't given nearly as much to do as a grizzled mechanic and must slog through a role so insignificant there isn't even much an actor of his talents can do with it.
It's easy to see why this died a quick death at the box office since it's only getting more difficult to convince moviegoers to spend their money watching Cage mock himself again, especially in 3D where the stakes for mind-blowing entertainment are raised. But like last year's Piranha remake this is the kind of cheesy, B-level grindhouse movie that feels defensible for that format. Still, even only at 105 minutes, the plot stretches thin, so it comes as somewhat of a relief that it's an unimportant element. This makes it the perfect rental or guilty pleasure purchase if you're in the mood for movie junk food, or just feel like rewarding yourself for avoiding the shattered expectations that would have likely accompanied a theatrical viewing. At home those expectations are hovering at a more manageable level and the performances of Fichtner and Heard alone should be enough to seal the deal for anyone straddling the fence about checking it out. Thankfully recalling well-made, fun garbage like Con-Air rather than The Wicker Man, Next or Bangkok Dangerous, Drive Angry not only knows it's supposed to be a bad Nic Cage movie, but proudly wears that badge on its sleeve, making no apologies for reveling in its own awesome awfulness.