Did you guys know that Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND is the #6 highest grossing movie of all time? It’s literally made over a billion dollars. Just seems weird to me, because I don’t know anybody that liked that movie. I thought it was pretty terrible but keep finding myself “defending” it trying to convince people that at least it was cool looking. Except for the Mad Hatter.
When I mention that somehow it made that much money everybody says “Well, because the 3D tickets cost more.” I’m sure that was part of it. But it’s not like every 3D movie makes a ton of money.
Case in point: DRIVE ANGRY 3D, which debuted at #9 at the box office this weekend, and made it in the record books as the lowest moneymaker for a wide release 3D movie ever. Even with the extra 3 bucks or whatever per ticket it made less than JONAH HEX did in its first weekend, and less than half what Nic Cage’s last movie, SEASON OF THE WITCH did. And those were kind of dumped off without much of a push. DRIVE ANGRY had a release date and ads and everything.
I bring all this up only to illustrate that I do not have my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Even if I had a stethoscope I’d have no clue how to find its heartbeat, ’cause DRIVE ANGRY was one of my high priority most anticipated movies of the year. I made sure to fit it into my weekend in between three best picture nominees. I honestly don’t understand why it wouldn’t open big. Why wouldn’t you want to see this?
Here are the ingredients that got me excited:
1. Nic Cage. Okay, so this can go either way, but combine him with…
2. a plot about a guy who escaped from Hell and has a muscle car and is chasing a satanic cult that kidnapped his baby granddaughter. Originally I heard he escaped from prison which to be honest I like better, but I can get with this Hell bullshit too.
3. this team of director Patrick Lussier (former Wes Craven editor) and writer Todd Farmer (JASON X) also did MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, which had some funny shit in it, was shot with actual high quality 3D cameras and followed my preferred FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D philosophy of gimmicky as Hell 3D. I had alot of fun with that one and it didn’t even have Nic Cage or a cool car.
4. I thought Cage would take the opportunites of 3Dness seriously and do some weirdo VAMPIRE’S KISS type shit, based on this quote from Fred Topel’s interview:
“Yeah, I wanted to find ways to go into the audience. I even tried to get my tongue into the audience but I don’t know if that made it into the movie. That would’ve been an extreme moment but I’m not sure that it’s still in there or not. Yeah, trying to find ways to dance with the 3D cameras so that I could get into the fourth row of the audience or more.”
So, was I right, or was the world right? Well, we were both right. There is room for grey in this life, room for nuance. DRIVE ANGRY 3D is not as jawdroppingly awesome as I was hoping, but it was definitely worth my time. Maybe not yours. We all have different priorities.
First the bad news: Cage is relatively restrained in this movie, he’s playing it pretty normal. I noticed no mega-acting, no WICKER MAN style freakouts, no spontaneous Mick Jagger poses like in DEADFALL or VAMPIRE’S KISS, no tongue coming into the fourth row or dancing with the camera. His most animated scene is the one where he’s in a hotel room fucking Charlotte Ross from Days of Our Lives and he says “I never disrobe before a gunfight” and without dislodging his johnson kills a bunch of gunmen who burst into the room. In that scene he’s got a touch of Elvis, but the rest of it he pretty much plays as a normal leather jacket-wearing tough guy hero.
(And yes, that scene would be funnier if I hadn’t seen SHOOT ‘EM UP, where Clive Owen did almost the exact same thing with Monica Belluci. Clive was able to satisfy his lover, though, while Nic’s ends up in tears of horror, even with the added pleasure of second-hand taser tingling.)
Also, it turns out all the information that was coming out about the plot was building us up too much, it sounds alot more nuts than it comes across in the actual movie. So I apologize for my part in spreading that information – I didn’t know. Cage’s character is kind of like Michael Biehn in THE TERMINATOR or Joe Morton in BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET – all that shit about Hell is a backstory that you hear about throughout the movie, you don’t get to see a crazy demonic prison escape or anything like that. Kinda minimalistic.
So the ideal way of seeing this movie is something very few people will get the chance to experience: on a whim, without knowing much about it, but in 3D.
Now the good news:
As far as a low key studio b-movie in three-dee, DRIVE ANGRY has plenty to offer. It’s produced by Millennium Films (with a snazzy new logo) and especially for one of their movies it’s surprisingly low in shittiness. It opens with a car showdown where Cage as John Milton (either a reference to the author of the epic poem about the Fall of Man or to the guy R. Kelly wants to pack his things for him at the end of “Real Talk”) chases down a couple of dudes and blows them to shit. It establishes right away that this is gonna be a movie with some cartoonish gruesomeness, because Milton shoots a chunk out of a guy’s leg, the leg can no longer support the guy and it snaps. I approve. This scene also has what I believe may be the first 3D Guy-Walking-Slow-Motion-In-Front-Of-Explosion, and that’s a good sign that the movie is on my wavelength.
Milton needs a new car, but luckily he finds a smokin hot waitress (Amber Heard) in a troubled relationship who’s driving a badass ’69 Charger, and he’s not only able to hitch a ride with her but to save her from her cheating abusive boyfriend (writer Todd Farmer, playing a similar character to the one he played in MY BLOODY VALENTINE, with another 3D-naked-woman-in-parking-lot scene) and take off with her and the Charger.
We learn that Milton is on an unauthorized furlough from Hell, with the righteous mission of stopping this satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) from sacrificing a baby. This is personal for both parties. For Milton, not only is the baby his granddaughter, but this guy murdered his daughter. For Jonah not only does he want to sacrifice this baby to unleash Hell on earth or some shit like that, but he hates the baby because (SPOILER) her mama cut his dick off.
The movie would be alot better if a more interesting actor was playing the cult leader. I guess this guy is from the TWILIGHT movies, but he seems like some kind of third rate Jon Bon Jovi. He’s the kind of villain that you don’t really love to hate, you just kind of hate him. There really needs to be a magnetic presence for this guy that Milton is chasing. Luckily there’s a much more interesting character that’s chasing Milton: William Fichtner as “The Accountant.”
The Accountant is a suit-wearing agent of Hell who passes for a fed because he has a magic coin that he throws high up in the air (one of the more show-offy 3D shots – in fact, two of them, since they use the same trick twice) and it turns into a wallet with a badge. He’s an unstoppable killing machine like a Terminator who tricks real cops into working with him and interrogates and impales people as he tries to track down his fugitive.
As always Fichtner is funny and mischievous in the role, and the character is interesting because he’s not exactly evil, he’s just a demonic being doing his job. He doesn’t hate Milton, in fact he enjoys the game he has with him, like Tom Waits’s devil in THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS.
There are a couple other kind-of-cool smaller characters. David Morse is in it and not as his usual gum-chewing-asshole character, but as Milton’s old partner-in-crime-who-has-now-gone-straight. Not only does he seem really nice and honorable, but he has 2 (two) badass cars prepared for Milton’s use. There’s also a small appearance by the great Tom Atkins as an eccentric sheriff. I think he’s one of the Lussier players now, since he was in MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D. I doubt Lussier will still get to do the HALLOWEEN 3D he’s been attached to for a while, but that would be so great if he had Tom Atkins in it and it’s only a coincidence that he starred in the original HALLOWEEN 3.
Heard has gotten poor reviews, but I thought she was pretty good as far as these actresses-who-look-like-models-playing-southern-girls-who-wear-Daisy-Dukes-and-throw-punches go. I’m not predicting a great career or nothin but she’s not one of those female leads that might as well be a sex dummy. She has some presence and can say her lines like she knows what the words mean. The character is also kind of interesting as far as gender roles go because she’s openly promiscuous but never gets punished for it, and at the end Milton trusts her to raise his granddaughter. Usually a character like that would be looked down on by the movie. You can only be a hooker with a heart of gold if you get paid.
Like the poster says, this was shot in 3D, and I dig that. My friend said it looked blurry but in my experience it was pretty much flawless 3D, with nice smooth camera moves to show off the layers without sacrificing geography. Filmatically the car scenes aren’t DEATH PROOF awesome or anything but they’re solid and comprehensible and look cool popping out of the screen.
There’s at least one spinning ax tossed toward the audience, possibly as a nod to the ridiculous number of flying pickaxes in BLOODY VALENTINE. I don’t think there are quite as many projectiles as in that one, but there are a respectable amount. There’s exploding debris, an occasional body part, a jaw bone, some supernatural CGI shit, some cars going off jumps. There’s some matrixy rotating around digital projectiles, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. If you don’t want to see silly shit like that then you don’t want to see this movie.
I’m not sure why Nic chose to stay so caged on this one. I suspect an epic megablast of weirdo would’ve filled the hollow center and made the weaknesses harder to notice or totally irrelevant. It wouldn’t be BAD LIEUTENANT good but it could still be legendary. If he’s gonna be in the fourth row I want him to be eating roaches and shouting out the alphabet, not just standing there.
I’m sure this will surprise people a little on cable, it’ll give people a few laughs, but they’ll be missing out on the 3D. Since it’s not a great movie I can’t get too choked up about it dying a lonely death, but the shame of it is this would probly play good with an enthusiastic, possibly drunk audience. It has a knowing-but-not-too-winky tone that reminds me of some of the legit drive-in movies I’ve enjoyed at late night horror marathons. And at the very end it has the type of truly great moment I will always cherish.
SPOILER OF THE BEST THING IN THE MOVIE – DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN IT OR EXPECT TO DIE BEFORE YOU GET A CHANCE TO
At one point Milton has a wise ass line where this villain Jonah offers him he’s offered a beer and he says he only wants it if he can drink it out of Jonah King’s skull. It’s the kind of promise you always want an action hero to actually deliver on, but know they never will. Unless they are Nicolas Cage. In DRIVE ANGRY Cage actually does get to enjoy drinking a cold one out of the skull of his slaughtered enemy. And not in a macho way, like MacGruber pissing on Val Kilmer’s corpse. He does it real casual during a conversation, and kind of awkward, like drinking soup out of a bowl filled to the brim, trying not to spill any.
This is that genius Nic Cage touch you want to see whenever he’s in a movie. He shows us that drinking out of skulls sounds great on paper, but doesn’t really work that well in reality. And that it’s still totally worth doing.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.