Too frequently, films either fail to commit to their inherent lunacy thoroughly enough, or take it too far to such a point where it becomes deafening. Drive Angry exists on the precipice of pulling off this high-wire act, but falls a few paces short, which is par for the course with director Patrick Lussier, whose My Bloody Valentine reboot a few years ago was also too straightfaced to embrace the over-the-top camp-trash horror vehicle it was destined to be.
This isn’t to say that Drive Angry is a sober affair by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a remarkably strange action movie, a hybrid of Ghost Rider, the hellfire mythologizing of Constantine and a dose of ‘70s car movies just for flavor. Milton (Nicholas Cage) is a mysterious drifter, hell-bent (get it?) on catching Jonah King (Billy Burke, trying to do his best Michael C. Hall impression), a cult leader who murdered Milton’s daughter and kidnapped his grandchild to make a sacrifice to the devil. Things are complicated by Piper (Amber Heard), a truckstop waitress who gets dragged along for the ride. There’s also The Accountant (William Fichtner), a ruthless bounty hunter assigned to hunt Milton who also starts taking a very active interest in King’s activities.
Though much of the major plotting has been given away from the trailers and commercials, a SPOILER WARNING is still in order here. That having been said, the worst decision Lussier makes is to wait until nearly halfway into the film to make clear what the audience has long figured out: that Milton has escaped from hell and that The Accountant has been assigned to bring him back. The film would have benefitted greatly from some economy; in an era where Shoot ‘Em Up was so effective in large part because of its lean 80-minute runtime, Drive Angry feels a bit bloated at 104. Unfortunately, though Heard does the best she can with a mostly uninteresting role, the film devotes far too much time to a subplot involving her life troubles.
The real fun comes in when Fichtner and Cage are allowed to do their thing. Audiences have come to expect the kind of winking scenery chewing that Cage indulges in here (though this was really not the right film to try and play things more subdued than usual), but he’s frequently outdone by Fichtner, who plays with a host of bizarre tics straight out of the character actor’s handbook. Between his unflappable cool even in the midst of a climactic gunfight/car wreck and his inexplicable propensity for sniffing everybody he comes in contact with, The Accountant is a phenomenal action movie creation, and it’s a shame that most of the time the film doesn’t rise to meet a performance this campily fantastic.
The action is well-shot for what it has to be, though none of those setpieces really linger as memorable; like many genre movies of the past few years, big setpieces are mistaken for engagement, and the attempts at humor-infused violence aren’t taken far enough to really land. The 3D is also worth mentioning, for the film was shot in that medium (a fact the trailers and posters were adamant about), and some of the best gags involve fourth-wall breaking effects. Cheesy? Yes, but they’re done well here. Mention should also be made of a very obvious, but nevertheless hysterical use of music over the film’s extended final shot. Isolated moments like this, and Fichtner’s performance, hint at what Drive Angry could have been and missed out on accomplishing.