The snow had grown treacherous by the time we made it to the theater on Friday. The streets were slick and the drivers were stupid, and the whole thing hung over our heads like the last disaster of winter waiting to happen.
But we had made it. For the next two hours we were comfortably safe in the womb of Nic Cage vis-a-vis grindhouse.
When we sat down in the theater the ad projector was off, something wrong with the bulb or the color settings so that everything had a pink tint. It reminded me of old film that had been exposed a few too many times, just this side of burn out. It was out of place in a modern, digital theater. It was a perfect fit for the film we were about to see.
Drive Angry 3D isn’t so much a send up of the grindhouse genre so much as it is like some director who is bound for Alan Smithee status fell through time from the seedier parts of the 70s and was handed a 3D camera and told to ‘Go make something we can sell.’ A recipe for disaster, to be sure, but it is the kind of disaster that works its ass off to put on a good show.
Nic Cage is a man named John Milton, who broke out of hell to rescue his infant granddaughter from a bunch of redneck Satanists bent on sacrificing her to usher in some sort of dark age. He’s followed by The Accountant, a demon in a suit played by William Fichtner channeling Christopher Walken.
The leader of the Satanists, played by a sneering Billy Burke (known mostly for playing the woefully too-good-for-this-movie father of Bella Swan in the Twilight nonsense) rocking a soul patch and an array of fantastic open-chested shirts, murdered Milton’s daughter and has a seeming army of well-armed cultists at his beck and call.
If this sounds like the setup to an extended joke I wouldn’t blame you. It all plays out with a well-developed sense for the absurd. Nic Cage enters the screen the first half dozen times with a guitar riff and a sneer. Shotguns blow off limbs and blow up cars, sending body parts and shrapnel flying. There are an impressive array of increasingly awesome cars doing increasingly improbable things.
Drive Angry 3D is content to mash up its car-/revenge-/hicksploitation-/satanist-film genre bits in a slurry of laughs and set pieces. For all its madness, it’s surprisingly coherent, hung on the simple plot and Cage’s immutable face as the straight man of the movie. Of course, when the straight man has a protracted gunfight while balls deep in a roadside waitress, you know you’ve entered the land of the well and truly skewed.
But the real attraction here is Fichtner, coming across like he stepped out of a better version of Constantine than the one we got, dodging bullets and brainwashing cops and murdering fools with the aplomb of a man who doesn’t need to tell you how cool he is because it comes off of him in waves. It’s an amazing piece of work as the charismatic devil, and he steals every single scene he’s in.
The faults of Drive Angry 3D are many, to be sure, with an overreliance upon ‘cool’ in favor of ‘good’ and perhaps a too knowing irony to the whole thing. But it’s never insulting about the whole thing and by the end of the film is content to just put it all on the line with Cage driving a car on fire shooting Satanists (who are also on fire) with a shotgun that makes people explode into fine crimson spray.
And the ending … well, I won’t give away the ending, but the climax includes what might be the best homage to Sam Raimi’s genre work ever committed to film. It’s a beautiful sight to see.
Speaking of sights, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the third part of that title, the infamous 3D. I’m on the record as being ‘over’ 3D, but there wasn’t a choice at the theater so I went with it. And like most movies shot in 3D, it was a solid experience. The difference between post conversion and actual 3D cameras is night and day, especially in a film like this, that knows its format and uses it to tweak its gags just a bit to make them that much more ridiculous. I wouldn’t say you should see it in 3D, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to.
Drive Angry 3D certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but it never set out to be anything more than some laughs and a pretty badass way to spend a few hours of your time. You know just from the premise whether this movie is for you or not, but if you like things that are awesome, this is the ticket. It pulls no punches, it rests on three great actors being pretty crazy throughout, and it takes the crown for Best Nic Cage Movie of 2011.