“Drive Angry 3D” is not a good movie. It is predictable, crude, poorly written, and cheaply made. But it is entertaining, especially for audiences with a taste for campy, so-bad-it’s-good humor, because it has the good sense to never, ever take itself seriously.
Of course, it’s impossible to take much about “Drive Angry” seriously: Nicolas Cage plays Milton, a long-dead criminal who escapes from hell to save his granddaughter from a cult of Satanists. Things go as expected, with Milton charging through one set piece involving bullets, cars, and explosions after another. The action sequences are competent but unoriginal. The silliest scenarios work best, especially a mid-coitus slow-motion gunfight early in the film.
Recent years have seen Cage turn roles into scene-gobbling, apocalyptic spectacles – see “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Wicker Man” – but, in the taxonomy of Cage performances, this classifies as an almost tasteful specimen. Milton is laconic and steely-eyed, Charles Bronson returned from the dead, though the total conviction behind his delivery of some terrible dialogue is wonderful. He also sports the film’s most impressive special effect, a horrible wig that makes him look like a platinum blonde Medusa.
The Louisiana-Texas setting lends the plot a funny, “Dukes of Hazzard” vibe and cast of characters. There’s even the requisite Daisy Duke in Piper, played by Amber Heard, a directionless young woman in jean shorts who helps Milton rescue his granddaughter. Heard gets into the movie’s playful mood well considering the script limits her role to bending over the hood of cars. The cars, in turn, are the other eye candy, huge phallic mid-century American models lasciviously waxed and shined to perfection – until Cage blows them up, of course.
Character actor William Fichtner (“The Dark Knight,” “Prison Break”), playing a mysterious man hot on Cage’s trail, delivers the standout performance as a nonchalant yet lethal antagonist. Improbably, he turns out to be the film’s most likable character. The Satanic cult leader John King, played as a redneck David Karesh by Billy Burke (“Twilight”), could have been a more over-the-top, mustache-twisting villain, but he lacks menace and has little chance for humor.
There may be some message about redemption, or the nature of evil, lurking in “Drive Angry,” but attempts at profundity are half-formed, as if director Patrick Lussier (“My Bloody Valentine“) wisely decided sophistication has no place in this universe. Mainly, things get blown up. There is at least a mild anti-cult theme, which is a good public service.
To boot, the characters are too familiar and wooden to worry much over their fates. Milton grimaces and yearns, but he’s too much of a cartoon character to empathize with. This isn’t “The King’s Speech.”
Again, it’s to the film’s credit that the audience can fail to emotionally connect with what’s onscreen yet still enjoy it. In fact, it’s because we have that emotional distance that we can laugh at the movie’s absurdities and deficiencies. The tacky 3D effects are unimpressive and infrequent, limited to knives flying at the screen or a coin flicked in the air, but their cheapness only add to the film’s B-movie appeal.
Be warned that the levels of violence are cartoonish but still very gruesome, even by the blood-drenched standard of contemporary action films. And like any good B-movie, there’s a respectable amount of gratuitous nudity, and prolific levels of cursing rarely seen outside of movies set in Boston.
“Drive Angry” is really a kind of 2011 version the cheap grindhouse films of the seventies, which luxuriated in cheap thrills and laughs. Viewers who can appreciate the movie’s low-budget, lowbrow charm will find it very watchable.