Cigars, whiskey, sunglasses, a naked waitress straddling a clothed, but unzipped Nic Cage, the line “I never disrobe before gunplay”, gunplay, sex, sex and gunplay and whiskey and cigars at the same time. This is the sort of thing you will find in Drive Angry, the newest film in Nic Cage’s long and illustrious oeuvre, and this is just one scene. This film, like Robert Rodriguez’ Machete and Alejandre Aja’s Pirhana remake from last year, is deeply indebted to the grindhouse exploitation films of the 1970s, with a little bit of John Carpenter-style comedy-horror thrown in for good measure. I know some people are probably a little fed up with the recent splurge of studio films attempting to be “so bad they’re good”, but Drive Angry is mercifully free of artificial print damage and intentionally visible boom mics. Director Patrick Lussier fortunately seems more interested in coming up with as many “WTF” moments as possible, which might actually be a better quality to find in a genre filmmaker than, say, Wes Anderson, but I digress.
Drive Angry has the sort of plot one might expect to find in a Kurt Russell/John Carpenter collaboration from the 80s. Milton, played by Nic Cage with one of his all-time best hairstyles, is after a cult that murdered his daughter and plans to sacrifice his grandchild to Satan. Funny thing about Milton, though, he doesn’t seem to know what a cell phone is, everyone thinks he died years ago, his driver’s licence expired in the early 90s, and he has the amazing ability to get attractive middle-aged women to fall in love with him everywhere he goes, despite looking kind of homeless. That last part is never explained, which means it could be a supernatural power, or it could be because Nic Cage is a badass with bleached blonde mullet.
Meanwhile, Milton is being chased down by Satan’s “accountant” (William Fichtner) who, it seems, needs to take Milton back to hell so he can balance the books. As much as I love Nic Cage, I have to give Fichtner credit here for stealing the show. Fichtner has one of those faces that you doubtlessly recognize from countless bad movies and TV series, and he’s always been a solid character actor, so it’s nice to see him shine here, cracking jokes with his harsh angular face. Also along for the ride is Amber Heard, the leggy new actress who also happens to be in the actual John Carpenter’s comeback film The Ward, which is set for release sometime this year.
The film’s only weak link is the side-burned Billy Burke as cult leader Jonah King, who suffers a condition that would make psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan perk up and watch with interest, but can’t quite hold the camera the way the rest of the cast does. Nonetheless, the movie is a gory, funny, and often irrationally good piece of filmmaking. Lussier is obviously in love the movies that inspired this one, and it shows in everything from Cage’s bandana to the way people’s limbs are removed from their bodies, and even to the unexpected manner in which certain plot points are resolved. So yes, some people will inevitably complain that Nic Cage’s career has turned into a joke, but as long as Cage has to dig himself out of these tax troubles, can’t we let him fun on movies like these?