In the annals of Hollywood film history, there have been a number of actors who were closely associated with automobiles, both in their movies and in real life. Of course, Steve McQueen comes to mind, as does Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Paul Walker and Burt Reynolds.
In recent years, perhaps no Hollywood figure is considered to be more of a car guy than Nicolas Cage. In addition to having an extensive personal car and motorcycle collection, his film credits include such vehicular extravaganzas as Gone in 60 Seconds, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and the subject of this month’s edition of “Rob’s Car Movie Review,” the 2011 film Drive Angry!
A co-production by Summit Entertainment, Millennium Films, and Saturn Films, and distributed in the United States by Summit Entertainment, Drive Angrywas written and directed by Patrick Lussier, who had previously helmed the hit My Bloody Valentine. The film features an excellent cast that includes Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, and David Morse.
Cage plays John Milton, a former criminal who died and was sent to Hell. Finding out that cult leader Jonah King (Burke) has murdered his daughter and stolen his infant granddaughter for sacrifice in a Satanic ritual on earth, Milton escapes Hell to locate the child and kill King.
During his travels to locate the cult leader, Milton crosses paths with Piper (Heard), a waitress he helps extricate from an abusive relationship. Becoming friends, the two subsequently embark on the quest for King together.
Meanwhile, an operative of Satan, The Accountant (Fichtner), arrives on Earth to bring Milton back to Hell.
A cat and mouse game across several Southwestern states ensues with Milton pursuing King and The Accountant pursuing Milton. Milton and Piper are aided by Webster (Morse), a kindly friend of Milton’s back when he was alive. Things come to a head when Milton locates King at the same time The Accountant closes in on him.
If all of this sounds rather ludicrous, you would not be wrong. Every aspect of the film requires an immense commitment to suspending one’s disbelief. From the basic plot, to the nearly superhuman feats accomplished by even the mortal characters, to the preposterous coincidences that occur so as to cheaply gloss over major plot holes, nothing here is truly grounded.
Curiously enough though, these ridiculous machinations are also precisely what makes the film an intensely watchable and campy (if not entirely brain-cell-killing) guilty pleasure.
Say what you want about the idea of the main protagonist and one of his nemeses being undead denizens of Hell, but I bet you’ll find yourself admitting that you’ve never seen that before.
What’s more, several of the performances in the film are excellent, aside from Cage’s trademarked campy and over-the-top emoting. Amber Heard, for one, does very well with the less-than-stellar material she has to work with here, and she is shockingly easy on the eyes. One is almost rooting for her against the script which makes her utter such inanities as: “Them devil worshipers freak me out. Messin’ with powers they ought not to.”
David Morse also gives an understated but completely likeable depiction of Webster, aptly tempering his shock of seeing a resurrected Milton with an “aw shucks” desire to see justice served.
But the real show stealer here is William Fichtner.
A vastly underrated character actor who has blessed such excellent films as Black Hawk Down, Go and Heat, Fichtner steals every scene he is in. He effortlessly projects a menacing, supernatural aura in the role of The Accountant. This suggests he is not someone to mess around with while eschewing the manic pyrotechnics that Cage would naturally think to use. If this were a better movie, Fichtner could actually have gotten some notice for the performance.
The cinematography, editing, and sound design are all competent here, but the CGI – used in an overabundance – is well below par. It’s actually bad enough to take you out of the movie at times while you say to yourself, “Wow, that looked fake.”
While the film in general often frustrates, one thing that doesn’t are the cars presented in it.
The four-wheel star of the movie is Piper’s car, a glorious 1969 Dodge Charger R/T in B9 Dark Blue Poly with a black interior. An all-singing, all-dancing tribute to the muscle car’s golden era, the Charger’s timeless lines are explored from every angle in the film.
Although we never get a look under the hood, in exposition it is said that the car packs a 440 Magnum, to which The Accountant rolls his eyes, as if to say “why didn’t you get a Hemi?”
I personally wouldn’t roll my eyes, as those in the know will tell you that the 440’s factory-rated 375 brake horsepower combined with a considerable weight savings over the Hemi, meant that in a straight line, it was every bit the Hemi’s competitor.
Another phenomenal car in the movie is a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS in Cranberry Red with black longitudinal stripes. Dialogue tells us the car is a 454, although I found no information on the web what the movie car was actually powered by. I sincerely hope the car wasn’t a 454, as it is not treated well in the movie.
Equally awesome is a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS in KK Tripoli Turquoise with white, full length stripes. The car is only seen briefly, but is quite a looker. A 1963 Buick Riviera also makes an appearance, as does a sinister, black 1957 Chevrolet One-Fifty at the very end of the movie.
Drive Angry is a film that alternately titillates and frustrates. It’s premise is inventive and the cast excellent, but sadly the script and other technical aspects of the movie let it down at inconvenient moments. Thankfully, the movie’s cars present nothing but eye-popping road-candy. All in all, I give Drive Angry six out of ten pistons.