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Drive Angry (2011)

Nobody said he’d be angry the whole time.


What if the Great Library at Alexandria had never burned?

Who was Jack the Ripper?

What if World War II never happened?

What if Robert Rodriguez made a reboot of The Crow with Nicolas Cage?

These and many other great questions have plagued humankind since the beginning of time. While other secrets may remain buried forever, back in 2011, an elaborate simulation was run to answer the most important question of all…

What if Robert Rodriguez made a reboot of The Crow with Nicolas Cage?

Ok, I’m not certain whether or not this was the actual aim, but if ever there was a proof of concept for such a thing, this is it.

A man named John Milton (Nicolas Cage, and also…really? John Milton?) has jumped the CGI gates of hell in a CGI Buick Riviera, the most commonly available car in the Underworld. Hell, in this universe, is depicted as a massively walled, post-apocalyptic prison facility on an island ringed by computer-generated lava. It seems to be connected to the rest of the universe by a digitally rendered suspension bridge.

It’s a curious enough image that you almost forget to wonder why there are cars in hell in the first place and under what circumstances one is able to just Dukes of Hazzard it right past security.

It’s the kind of tacked-on exposition that immediately makes you want to see the last 104 minutes much more than the next. As if to prove my point, an extraneous narration glosses over this glorious escape with a few words about how the “badass” in the car will be held accountable.

Guys, show me, don’t tell me.

That’s like starting GoldenEye from here, with a V/O skimming over the cool stuff you just missed.

At least the rest of the cold open fills in some details. Milton’s daughter was murdered by a Satanic cult, leaving behind her own infant daughter. The cult plans to sacrifice the baby at the next full moon, unleashing the Apocalypse.

Why this is the case and what makes this particular child special are literally never addressed, even via narration.

All we are meant to understand is that Milton intends to rescue the infant and is willing to carve his way through a sea of maniacs to do it. He begins his rampage by hunting down a handful of low-level henchmen and giving them as much ammunition as they can…take… in exchange for information.

Pictured.

Now is an excellent time to point out that Drive Angry was released in 2011, when studios were still embracing 3D like it was 1955. Most action films were getting the treatment, and this was one of them. This means that the action sequences are shot in such a way as to look best in that format.

You see where this is going, right?

Since nobody watches movies that way anymore, films optimized for 3D can be a mixed bag. Drive Angry also falls firmly into the exploitation genre, arriving on the tail end of the brief grindhouse revival encouraged by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in the late 2000s.

Whether you like it or not, this movie may be a crowning achievement of Cinematic gimmickry. Overly kinetic action beats, combined with an aggressive lean into harsh language, campy zingers, wild sex, rampant misogyny, and ultra-violence, make Drive Angry an experience you’re unlikely to forget, even if you hate it.

Luckily, I happen to be a sucker for bonkers revenge flicks. And by my count, we have an undead avenger, multiple graphic deaths, a bizarre supernatural cult, and a child in danger. All are presented in the washed-out, warped perspective we’ve come to expect from 3D movies shown in 2D.

Glorious! And I haven’t even mentioned the sidekick or the multiple antagonists!

For reasons that are stupid, Milton teams up with Piper (Amber Heard), a down-on-her-luck waitress with historically bad taste in men and an itch for fistfighting. She drives a kickass vintage muscle car but when she’s with Milton, he takes the wheel.

You don’t put Nicolas Cage in the front seat of a car and not let him drive.

The Satanists are represented by a comically evil maniac named Jonah King (Billy Burke), seemingly a cross between deceased rocker Jim Morrison and everyone’s least favorite Kool-Aid man. In keeping with the nature of the film, King is cartoonishly evil in a way I’d argue is necessary for the story to remain lighthearted.

Meanwhile, Team Beelzebub has dispatched its own agent to set things right. The Accountant (William Fichtner) is an off-putting autocrat with severe personal space issues, dedicated to putting Milton back where he belongs. Like the other characters, he is highly goal-oriented but also somewhat murder-averse.

Think Agent Smith from The Matrix, only with an ironic sense of humor and, dare I say it, a modicum of compassion.

Can’t you tell?

Milton evens the odds against this threat by virtue of having stolen – from the Devil himself – a bananas weapon called the God Killer. It’s a weird, rotating barrel pistol that only holds half as many bullets as it has barrels because this movie is insane. More importantly, anyone struck by this weapon – even The Accountant – is consigned to Oblivion.

No Heaven or Hell for you, only Darkness. So why does such a weapon even exist, who made it, why does Satan have it and how the hell did Milton get it?

Ha! Drive Angry cares not for your grating questions about logic and plot! It just wants to party for a while and get out of your life!

How you feel about that will depend on your tolerance for pointless nonsense. No innovations to the genre are present here, and no surprises are offered by the story as told. Director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer are credited with the story and between them, both men are at least partially responsible for things like Jason X, Dracula 2000, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Terminator: Genisys.

There’s nothing I can add to that list of achievements other than to say I think they knew what kind of movie they were making with Drive Angry.

And so did the cast. Cage was undoubtedly born to play Trailer Park Eric Draven. But I enjoyed watching Amber Heard kick, punch, stab and scream her way through this as much as I did Cage. Billy Burke’s commitment to Team Evil feels so authentic that I wonder if his family shouldn’t get a permanent monthly wellness check.

And Fichtner’s Accountant has me imagining a new Oscar category for Most Endearing Agent of Darkness.

Like a milkshake, Drive Angry goes down smooth and easily. It’s an adequate diversion that will have no lasting impact on your life, and it’s neither a great nor terrible film. It is what it is and you’re either down for a little mayhem (a lot, actually) or not.

And with all due respect to Bill Skarsgard and Rupert Sanders, I think we have effectively answered the question “What if Robert Rodriguez made a reboot of The Crow with Nicolas Cage?”

It would rule, and I would drive fast and happy to see it.


Drive Angry is available on Hulu and Disney+ with subscription.

Bruce Hall View All

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."

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