Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #461
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 25 February 2011
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $28,900,000
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director: Patrick Lussier
Producer: Rene Besson, Michael DeLuca
Screenplay: Todd Farmer, Patrick Lussier
Special Effects: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Visual Effects: Gary Hutzel, Glenn Neufeld
Cinematography: Brian Pearson
Score: Michael Wandmacher
Editing: Patrick Lussier, Devin C. Lussier
Studios: Summit Entertainment, Millennium Films, Michael De Luca Productions, Nu Image Films, Saturn Films
Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, Tom Atkins, David Morse, Charlotte Ross, Christa Campbell, Katy Mixon, Jack McGee, Todd Farmer, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Arianne Martin
Suggested Audio Candy
 Everlast “Stone In My Hand”
 Trooper “Raise a Little Hell”
 Meat Loaf “Alive”
Road rage is a disease. I’ve seen what it can do to a man and it ain’t pretty. We may suffer from a brittle bone condition which means that taking a single punch to the ribs could have dire consequences but, the moment we’re behind the wheel, we’re all brass balls and colorful language. If I’m in the passenger seat of a car being chaperoned by somebody suffering from “the rage” then I may well flash a smile but don’t be fooled. It’s actually more likely a grimace and will conceal my disgust. As a motorist, I am benign to the very spine and rarely will you ever hear me honk my horn in anger. There’s something about being seated in the throne of displeasure that turns us into disagreeable morons and I believe it has something to do with the fact that we are safeguarded within our alloy chariots and feel indestructible. What Driving Miss Daisy didn’t shed light on was the hissy fit that Morgan Freeman suffered when an ice cream truck cut across him on the interstate. Folk just lose their minds.
Take Nicolas Cage for example. Our bad lieutenant has been prone to the odd full-bodied outburst from time to time and has even made a career out of it. He can be the worst thing about a great film and the very best about a bad one but he is always watchable, even when he’s making us cringe. Since headlining a trifecta of kick ass action flicks in the nineties, with Face/Off, The Rock, and Con Air, he has fancied himself as a bit of an action hero and admittedly he does fit the bill rather well. Madder than a sack of inebriated squirrels with nut allergies, he is no stranger to wild eyes and hissy fits and, at 51, shows no signs of slamming on the brakes. However, he is nothing if not adhering to the rules of the road. This includes mirror (to kiss yourself), signal (one finger in salute form), maneuver (straight into the car in front’s fender). Who better to drive angry?
While his output may appear erratic to some, there can be no denying that he has on-screen presence to spare. Should he star in a dud then he’ll simply make two good films to atone for his mistake and, somewhere down the line, we just know he’ll win us over. He had me as Ben Sanderson in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, having already impressed the hell out of me in The Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona, and has gone on to amass nearly eighty credits working tirelessly ever since to show his versatility. Cage is the kind of actor who uses only two gears, neutral and full speed ahead. Here he is requested to bring more of the latter.
Canadian-born filmmaker Patrick Lussier knows a little something about excess. In 2009, he gave us his spirited reboot of George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine and restraint wasn’t the order of the day. It celebrated all that made the slasher great and cranked shit up to eleven, focusing on giving his audience precisely what they’d paid their money for and doing so totally unapologetically. As a result, it left Marcus Nispel’s Friday The 13th floundering in its slip stream and went on to trump it at the box office, no mean feat for a supposedly lesser entity. Along with his fellow screenwriter buddy, Todd Farmer, he knows what his addressee wants and goes hell for leather supplying it which is an admirable trait in my book. His career trajectory to that point had been steady and unremarkable but his mad editing skills could never be called into question. The unprecedented success of My Bloody Valentine 3D earned Lussier another full tank of gas and it turns out he had his pedal to the metal in no time.
In many ways, Drive Angry is a similar hybrid and packs just the same power under its hood. His horizons are broader this time, as attested by the $50 million kitty at his disposal and it presents his opportunity to reach a wider demographic. Having said this, slasher fans will be pleased to learn that he packs just as much excess into its 104 minute duration. It takes all of five minutes to work that out and familiar territory is a distinct positive and, once again, it’s all presented in glorious 3D. Alas, this didn’t save it at the box office where it struggled to make half its outlay back. Things have been decidedly quiet on the western front since and I hope studios haven’t lost faith in Lussier as I certainly haven’t.
We are introduced to John Milton the moment we have our 3D glasses in place and he lets us know, in no uncertain terms, which gear he’s shifting into. Sparks fly, shrapnel spreads, fenders bend, animate objects explode into balls of flames, and heads pop accordingly and this is before the credits have even dared to roll. Evidently his is a quest for retribution and he will stop at nothing to find redemption, making every last sucker straying between his headlamps pay a princely sum for their hell crimes. However, every driver worth their salt needs somebody to ride shotgun and there can be few better passengers than International dog smuggler and congenial sex kitten, Amber Heard.
“Gimme one good reason I shouldn’t shoot you in the face.”
She plays feisty waitress Piper, and does so with absolute aplomb, matching each of Cage’s lengthy strides and supplying just the right amount of all-American sass to convince of her significance to the road trip. Piper has had a skinful of waiting for something to happen and her duplicitous other Frank (namesake to the trucker in My Bloody Valentine 3D and presumably a part Farmer wrote for himself with an impish grin and twitch in his nut sack) has just about whittled down her last nerve with his philandering ways. Piper is all in well before the flop and Heard plays the voracious vixen role to perfection.
“You are too willful to be taught. I am going to kill you, and then I’m going to defile your corpse.”
The clock is ticking and Milton has but three days to engage in a spot of angry driving, before Satanic cult frontman, Jonah King (a wild-eyed Billy Burke) sacrifices his beloved infant granddaughter to his deity. Having already slaughtered his only daughter, King is the sole reason for him driving so angrily and nothing else matters other than taking this tyrant down. To achieve a pleasing end result, he is packing some heavy artillery. The cunningly named God-Killer is more than just a firearm.
With Latin inscribed on each of its three bullets reading DEUS VELOX NEX, which translates to “God’s swift [violent] death”, this is not the kind of punisher to take lightly. One shot and it’s straight to perpetual blank space for an eternity of nothing whatsoever. Take a stray ricochet and you’re fucked basically.
“I need you boys to stand down. Captain, you know what this badge means, right? Federal Bureau of get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way.”
Of course, Milton can’t be allowed to simply roam free and leave a trail of alloy carnage without alerting the attention of his superiors. The Accountant (the ever brilliant William Fichtner) is sent to put the skids on his spree and return this bad boy to sender which, in this case, is old Beelzebub himself.
You see, Milton has already been sent to the sin bin, and this is little more than a busman’s holiday to him. He’s accepted his fate but refuses to extend King the privilege of wiping out two generations of Milton females. Hell hath no fury like an embittered father bringing to fiery justice those responsible for snuffing out his daddy’s girl. To even things out some, he has old pal Webster (David Morse) in his corner and he’s only too happy to loan him some wheels.
“No goddamn way. No ever-loving way in God’s good heaven are you an FBI agent.”
The cherry on top of the trifle comes in the form of the incomprehensibly sexy Tom Atkins. This suave motherfucker still has it after all these years and this marks his second time working with Lussier. This pleases me to my pip for two reasons: firstly it means that there is likely another man alive who agrees that Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch was bona fide plutonium and, secondly, he knows precisely where to source his cameos. Law enforcement seems to be the trend and, again, he wires his grizzled cop to our pleasure sensors with every solitary word uttered and look of despondency. Atkins has just turned seventy and I would imagine that erectile dysfunction is non-applicable.
“We was fucking. He killed them while we was fucking!”
The pace is ferocious throughout and entails a relentless stream of chase scenes and interior gun battles, although there’s still enough time for Milton to unwind and fire off a few rounds with his veined six-shooter, Little Nicky. However, he remains mindful of pressing deadlines and continues to pound that pussy whilst ventilating the undesirable room service and all without spilling a single drop of whiskey. Scenes like this call to mind Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up although Clive Owen’s baby carrot has nothing on what Cage is packing. He is evidently in his comfort zone and, moreover, can’t be accused of over-acting as he keeps the lengthy monologues to a premium and lets his weapon do the talking instead.
Since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez brought us their Grindhouse double-bill, seventies exploitation cinema has enjoyed something of a mini-revival. Lussier is more than game to join the convoy and understands exactly what makes gonzo cinema so goddamn cool. While the supernatural element will dumbfound any puritans, there’s more than enough humanity on offer to ensure we remain invested. In particular, his observation of the relationship between Milton and Piper is both sweet and reluctant to rely on base-level sexual chemistry. Our hell’s angel is clear on his key objective and this allows for a winsome chemistry to build without distraction. I have to come clean, three days and nights would be three too long for me not to pull over on the hard shoulder and stick her my shift shaft.
Drive Angry 3D knows how to back up its claims, just as My Bloody Valentine 3D did previously. There is plentiful driving, no shortage of angriness, and what it lacks in substance it more than makes up for with style. Both Cage and Heard bring game, Burke convinces as the last guy on Earth you want deflowering your daughter, and the brilliant Fichtner is at his twitchy best. It’s not high science and neither does it ever propose such. Had it been known as Drive Intellectually 3D, then I’m sure the versatile Cage would have nailed that too. However, he’s so much more fun when he’s angry.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Gore hounds are well catered for from the offset and Lussier prefers not to tint his glass and instead winds down both windows. Limbs fly, bitches are slapped, creeps impaled, hollowed skulls used as beer pitchers, and enough twisted metal is thrown at the screen to ensure we deploy our airbags. Throw in a little shameless full frontal nudity and it’s happy days.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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