The sobering thing about Drive Angry 3D is that I can—with a straight face and in complete seriousness—call it the best film of 2011 so far. (This, of course, does not include certain 2010 latecomers to the provinces.) Considering how completely underwhelming the 2011 releases have been so far, that’s not really saying much, nor does it convey what a completely fine time I had watching this masterwork of exploitation trash. I had looked forward to the movie based on its trailer, and completely mindful of the fact that two-and-a-half minutes of trailer can promise far more than the film itself may be able to deliver. In this case, however, Drive Angry 3D delivered even more than it promised. It fulfilled the lunacy it purported to offer and went further.
Don’t misunderstand. This is no award winner. If anything, it’s anti-Oscar-bait—with more than a whiff of authentic grindhouse madness. It’s everything Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) ought to have been and never was. Take Death Proof, combine it with Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up (2007), add a supernatural component, ramp it up and you have Drive Angry 3D. Now top this off with Lussier and cinematographer Brian Pearson proving once again that they know how to stage, light and shoot 3D like nobody else—while fully embracing the gimmick of the whole 3D nonsense—and it’s even better. In fact, it’s so ridiculously good at what it does that it’s almost guaranteed to be flop at the box office—something its opening weekend performance now assures.
The trick is understanding just what it’s so ridiculously good at. The what is its ability to keep a plot of epic loopiness moving forward while being awash in a copious sea of sex, violence, nudity, gore, absurd chases, one-liners, black comedy, supernatural hooey and a pretty complete subversion of good taste—but with a moral conclusion. Problem is the audience for that is not overwhelming. We’ve seen movies in this key tank time and time again—and it’s always dispiriting for those of us who actually do appreciate genuine trash. I think Drive Angry 3D erred by playing up its action and playing down its horror content in the advertising, but nobody asked me. They could have adapted that Ron Howard flick ad campaign from the ‘70s and made it, “Nicolas Cage pops the clutch and tells ol’ Satan to ‘Eat my dust!’”
Nicolas Cage—at his Cage-iest—stars as John Milton (don’t worry, that’s about as cerebral as the jokes get) who breaks out of hell in a Buick Riviera (the specifics of this are agreeably vague) and makes it back into the world in order to prevent the ritual sacrifice of his infant granddaughter by a devil cult headed up by Jonah King (a weirdly fey Billy Burke). Luck is on his side in the guise of curvaceous waitress Piper (Amber Heard) who decides to throw in her lot—and her boyfriend’s Dodge Charger—with him after she catches said boyfriend (played by co-writer Todd Farmer) having conjugal relations with another woman.
At the same time, however, an emissary from hell called “The Accountant” (a superb William Fichtner) is out to drag Milton back to the fiery furnace. The Accountant is the epitome of unflappable earthly cool. When he learns that Milton took off in a 1969 Charger, his only question is, “The 440 or the Hemi?” (Hell appears to be a savvy place in terms of muscle cars.) In a lot of respects, The Accountant is who makes this movie as much good unwholesome fun as it is. If you had told me prior to Friday that I would love a sequence using “That’s the Way I Like It” on the soundtrack, I’d have questioned your sanity. Not now.
Seriously, this is a wondrously over-the-top outburst of utterly tasteless, hard-R cinematic fun. And if you like that sort of thing, beat a hasty path to the theater—and I mean hasty, because 3D screens are at a premium and this isn’t going to stick around. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language.