Imagine a scenario for me if you will. You’re casting the lead for a film and you’re reading the script when you get to the following scene: The hero (Milton), having freshly escaped from Hell in order to avenge the death of his daughter and rescue her baby from the clutches of a group of Satanists, is in a motel room with a woman. They’re having sex and throughout, he remains fully dressed wearing shades, swigging whiskey and puffing constantly on a lit cigarette. Suddenly, Satanist stooges burst into the room to kill him. Barely fazed, he gets the drop on the first three with a display of fancy shootin’ and some adept body rolls, all the while remaining in flagrante.
Now tell me that your first thought wouldn’t be Nicolas Cage when casting this guy. If you insist on somebody else then I’m afraid we must part company at the end of this paragraph as this is clearly not the film for you. Because despite his critics, when it comes to playing balls out, over the top, too cool for school, don’t step on my blue suede shoes action heroes, nobody does it better. The basic plot of Drive Angry is one that you’ll have seen a hundred times before – an escaped bad ass, on the trail of some bad guys who’ve murdered/kidnapped his family, seeks retribution on those bad guys, all the while thwarting their plans for any further bad guy shenanigans. However, this bad ass hasn’t just escaped from prison, he’s escaped from Hell, and while he’s bringing all kinds of vengeance fuelled fury with him, he’s also being pursued by someone who has no intentions of letting him remain free for long.
Played with an abundance of deadly charisma by William Fichtner, The Accountant is an underworld figure tasked with hunting down escaped souls and returning them to the fiery pit of damnation. In a performance combining easy charm and effortless cool, Fichtner shows that he really should be given bigger parts in movies and what’s more, he needs to be given them now. He’s like a cross between Christopher Walken and the T-1000 in a Hugo Boss suit, only cooler. And his delivery of the line, “Hey you…Fat fuck!” is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. In short, he’s the best thing in the film.
You may have guessed from the premise that this isn’t a particularly intellectually demanding film and, of course, that’s the last thing it’s trying to be. Director and Co-Writer, Patrick Lussier is aiming for the kind of B-Movie/Grindhouse pastiche delivered by films such as Deathproof and From Dusk Till Dawn, and to a certain extent he succeeds. Thanks to a fairly punchy script, some fine performances and a healthy dose of over the top violence, the film is a fun way to spend a couple of hours at the flicks.
In addition to Cage and Fichtner there is able support from Amber Heard as Piper, a waitress who gets caught up in Milton’s story and ends up going along for the ride. Refreshingly, she is one feisty lady, more than capable of looking after herself and never once becoming the damsel in distress cliché so often seen in similar films. There’s also a wonderfully laid back turn from Billy Burke who plays Jonah King, head of the Satanists who plan to sacrifice Milton’s granddaughter in order to bring about Hell on earth (no, I don’t know how exactly but it’s not important. Just go with it). Every film like this needs a bad guy that you can’t wait to see get their just deserts and Burke delivers that bad guy in spades.
However, for a film called Drive Angry you would think there would be a fair bit of motor vehicular thrills and spills. Well yes but only up to a point. Now I love movie car chases and perhaps my expectations were too high but I’ve always thought that the very best ones invariably work due to good, old fashioned honest to God stunt work. While that is present here, there’s also a heavy reliance on green screen for close ups and some noticeable CGI that intrudes at vital moments. And it’s this that often saps any intensity or rawness many of these scenes might have delivered, as they sometimes feel a bit too safe, a bit too artificial. That’s not to say that these sequences are particularly bad. They’re not. But they never really deliver the kind of heart thumping, adrenaline pumping action prevalent in classics such as The French Connection, Mad Max and Bullitt.
Also, as far as the 3D aspect is concerned I’m still not convinced that this is in any way an improvement on the more traditional, two-dimensional movie going experience. Colours look washed out and the frequent instances of bullets and weaponry flying out of the screen has all too quickly become a predictable gimmick. (Also, as a wearer of spectacles, I’m forced to wear the 3D glasses over the top and balance them on the tip of my nose which is bloody annoying. But I digress.)
For all that I enjoyed Drive Angry, I’d guess that there are going to be people who will hate this film, some of them Grindhouse fans sick of Hollywood’s current obsession with trying to replicate something that is impossible when using Hollywood stars and multi-million dollar budgets. Also, anyone who already has issues with Nicolas Cage should stay away – this film will not remove the scales from thine eyes. But thanks to a fun premise and a cast who deliver pitch perfect performances, Drive Angry is going to please those of us who just can’t help loving Nicolas Cage. And if you don’t find yourself immediately subscribing to the William Fichtner appreciation society then that’s proof enough that you really shouldn’t be watching a movie like this.
Gripes about some of the driving sequences aside, Drive Angry probably lacks one or two of the truly memorable set piece moments required to make it a four star review. Having said that, it’s full of enjoyable OTT action and is a film of well realised B-movie sensibilities that scores more often than it misses. Just remember to switch your brain off along with your phone, and if you can temper your expectations with regards to the car chases you’ll no doubt leave the cinema in a better mood than when you went in.