Retro Review: DRIVE ANGRY 3D (2011){0}

You’re bound to read and hear a lot of opinions that call Drive Angry a mindless piece of stupid action flick trash … as if that’s some sort of shocking revelation. The trailers and TV ads all but scream “mindless action trash,” and the producers seem perfectly fine with that assessment. The question that stands, of course, is whether or not Drive Angry actually works as a slightly amusing, clever, or FUN piece of mindless action trash. And to be fair, it does … but not without a few serious issues. Yes, even mindless action trash is held to some kind of standard.

The film is about a mysterious drifter (Nicolas Cage) who is on the hunt for an evil man who kidnapped his infant granddaughter — for reasons much more nefarious than simple ransom. Without spoiling any of the flick’s alleged surprises, I can say that key characters are named Milton, Jonah, and Webster. Yeah, that’s where Drive Angry is ultimately headed. Our hero’s partner in vengeance is an outrageously gorgeous woman named Piper, who sometimes needs some damsel-style rescuing — but can also kick some serious ass through sheer power of female fury and some really killer boots. There’s also a devilishly entertaining chap called “The Accountant,” a presence that all but confirms the following statement: there is no movie that can fail to be improved upon by the simple addition of Mr. William Fichtner. (The steely-eyed supporting player steals scene after scene, and the fun doesn’t end there: you’ll also get some Tom Atkins and David Morse with the cost of admission.)

As if the trailers weren’t clear enough, Drive Angry is about little more than car chases, punched faces, and a certifiably insane level of carnage … and that’s sort of where the problems begin.

On one hand, Drive Angry could easily be a rock-‘em sock-‘em, tongue-in-cheek throwback flick that would look great right next to Planet TerrorHobo With a Shotgun, or House of the Devil. At its most fun moments, Drive Angry feels like an affection remake of an obscure 1978 Roger Corman production that might have been called “Hot Pants and the Devil Driver.” It’s got some fairly brazen sexuality, several over-the-top moments of creative mayhem, and an anarchic attitude that we don’t often get from “wide release” movies these days. That’s good stuff, to a point, although Drive Angry sometimes feels like a scrappy puppy that can’t decide if its name is Hard Action, Black Comedy, Occult Thriller, or Mindless Trash.

For all its legitimate moments of dark wit and well-presented action, the down-side is pretty evident as well: what feels like a screenplay that was originally meant to be a $5 million production got expanded to rather absurd proportions. So while the Corman vibe is welcome and enjoyable, Drive Angry also dabbles way too much in modern stupidity. For example, a ’70s-style action flick should never (ever) ever offer this many egregious CGI spurts. You want your bad-ass anti-hero to shoot a bad guy right in the head? Cool. One might argue it’d have more impact OFF-SCREEN than it would showered in stunningly fake-looking pixel parts. Ditto the headache-inducing (and tonally retarded) 3-D stuff that’s slathered across the film. It’s tough for me to enjoy an audacious, foul-mouthed, and surprisingly mean-spirited action flick when blurry pieces of wood are being thrown at me in (an alleged) three dimensions.

So what almost certainly would have cooked as a lower-budget action flick is now saddled with fake effects and ugly “comin’ at ya!” gimmickry that Drive Angry would certainly be better off without. Despite these visual miscues, Drive Angry should prove certainly amusing enough to those who enjoy the colorful, button-pushing, non-stop lunacy of flicks like Running ScaredShoot ‘Em UpCrank, and Smokin’ Aces. Horror fans may also appreciate the clunky-yet-fun little ideas drawn from FaustParadise Lost, and of course the good ol’ Bible. Yeah, it’s a pretty nutty movie. A little too dumb but admirably eager to please. Plus it’s simply not every day you get to see Nick Cage kill a half-dozen bad guys while chomping on a cigar, downing a bottle of Jack, and (yes) screwing a hot blonde waitress.