Nic Cage picked a hell of a time to tone it down.
I get that he’s trying to play cool. His character in Drive Angry, a guy who escaped from hell with a gun that can kill anything, is beyond smooth. The problem is that Cage’s natural acting state is manic - jittery, bug eyed, wild - and when he tries to play cool he comes across as mostly comatose.
And so, in the middle of all of the unstructured chaos that is Drive Angry is a slack-faced Nic Cage, denying us the pleasures of his insanity; the very insanity that probably got him offered the role in the first place.
To be fair I don’t know what even Bad Lieutenant-level Cage could do to make Drive Angry work. I walked into the film fully expecting to really enjoy the knowing wallow in trash brought by director Patrick Lussier and screenwriter Todd Farmer, the same team who made My Bloody Valentine an unexpected blast. Muscle cars, gleefully gimmicky 3D, hot women, blood, evil Satanists and William Fichtner doing some great work - all of these are signifiers that say to me ‘This will be a fun film.’
But for Drive Angry they’re just signifiers. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many cool elements you have assembled if you can’t put them together. Drive Angry is a model kit without any glue; the picture on the box is boss, and you can see how the pieces should fit together, but there’s nothing to hold it all in place.
You can’t say that Drive Angry doesn’t try. Too hard. To me this is where the movie fails - it’s so busy winking at you about how crazy, how cool, how over the top this stuff is that it doesn’t make the stuff actually work. It’s like sitting in the passenger seat with a stunt driver behind the wheel and he just keeps looking at you to see what your reactions are to his crazy driving. Keep your eyes on the road, asshole!
Drive Angry is the kind of film that doesn’t just have a slomo scene where Nic Cage fucks a woman while drinking booze and smoking a cigar and shoots a bunch of bad guys - it’s the kind of movie where the woman later on has to comment on him fucking her while drinking booze and smoking a cigar and shooting a bunch of bad guys. In case you previously missed how awesome that scene was. There’s a juvenile aspect to it which I thought I would like, but which ended up turning me off something fierce.
There are things that work - the 3D is great and always used for fun, not for sissy-ass ‘depth’ or whatever Cameron does with it. And William Fichtner is borderline brilliant as the accountant from Hell who has come to Earth to hunt down Nic Cage’s escapee. Amber Heard looks terrific, and more or less acquits herself. The violence is often strong and some of the humor is great. And most of the action scenes, taken on their own, are crackerjack and fun.
Again, these elements are adrift without any guiding force. The story is a shaggy mess of episodes, which is always the danger of a road picture. In the movie Cage is following a cult who plans to sacrifice his baby granddaughter to Satan, and as such most of the film is him chasing these guys. It makes the hero endlessly reactive instead of active, so you end up with stuff like him hanging around a roadhouse until a well-timed news report hits the TV and the bad guys show up. Farmer and Lussier set out to make a more muscular version of Race With The Devil, but they’ve fallen into the same trap as that movie, which is having a lack of forward momentum.
Drive Angry is loud and busy, and it’s rarely boring. But it’s also never really good. Drive Angry comes at the tail end of the grindhouse revival trend, and while it’s better made than films like Machete or the scores of indie films that followed in Quentin Tarantino’s wake, it succumbs to the same problem so many of those movies do: it’s a movie about the things that the filmmakers think are cool, and that’s never cool. Drive Angry isn’t about anything, it’s just a series of ideas that struck Lussier and Farmer as awesome, strung together at feature length. There’s a lot of balls in Drive Angry, and even some brains, but no heart.