Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 3: Drive Angry (Shot in 3-D)

"Nobody ever reaches the end of their lives and says, 'damn, I wish I hadn't fucked so much.'"

If there's a more enigmatic actor than Nicolas Cage working today, I'd honestly like to hear about that person. I would wager to say that up until maybe five years ago, he was considered one of the elite, top-tier movie stars working in Hollywood. I think that's pretty indisputable. He had always done strange movies and made strange choices in the movies he was in, but they used to be interspersed with the more mainstream stuff. Lately he just seems to be immersing himself in nonsense, and on the surface, Drive Angry is no exception. But odd as it may sound, there's actually a lot more going on in this movie than you might think at first glance.

Cage plays John Milton (groan), an escaped convict trying to track down cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) who has murdered Cage's daughter and stolen his granddaughter to sacrifice in the next 48 hours to unleash a new hell on earth. Still with me? Good. Now, it's not just any prison that Milton has broken out of, it's the biggest prison of all, Hell, run by the baddest warden of all, Satan, who has sent The Accountant (the undeniably brilliant William Fichtner) to retrieve Milton and a "godkiller" gun that he has stolen. Milton has also teamed up with ass-kicking, muscle car owning, former waitress Piper (Amber Heard) in order to track King down, retrieve his granddaughter, and prevent the apocalypse. Fairly by-the-numbers stuff here, right?

The movie is sheer, utter, pure ridiculousness and thankfully it knows it. From minute one, you know exactly what you're in for. The director & screenwriter have lodged their tongues firmly in their respective cheeks, and hopefully you have no pretense of taking anything that's about to unfold seriously. I could go scene by scene and talk about how ridiculous everything in this movie is, but that would be an exhaustive waste of time. Everything is absurd and everyone in the cast is playing it seriously, taking the old Zucker-Abrahams parody strategy to new heights by adding explosions, decapitations, genital mutilation & a general disregard for the law of physics into the mix.

I am sad to report that on home video, the film loses it's luster. In the theater, in 3-D, the film had a newness to it, but after a third viewing on a television set, it's still great for the most part, but it's a bit bloated and ultimately just not as great as some other films that go equally for broke (Shoot 'em Up and Hobo with a Shotgun come immediately to mind as films that hold up better on repeat viewings). There is a certain joy in watching an Academy Award-winning actor appear to be slumming, only to discover he's actually smarter than you're giving him credit for, but it fades with time.

The one element of the film that holds up gloriously is William Fichtner's performance as The Accountant. Fichtner is an incredibly reliable character actor who can show up in films as varied as Go, Armageddon, Drowning Mona, Crash, Date Night & The Dark Knight, and lend them instant credibility. Here, he gives a performance so deliriously over-the-top, that he ends up stealing the film, wholesale, from everyone else on screen with him at any given moment. You wait anxiously for him to come back on-screen every time a scene with him ends. He deserves serious Oscar consideration for his performance, and I say that without a hint of irony.

If you haven't seen Drive Angry, see it. Know that it's going to be absurd and ridiculous, and just try not to be won over by it's charm. However, I caution you that in watching it, you must know, understand and accept the fact that it will never be as good as it is right then and there, the first time you're watching it. In the age of dvds, blu-rays, digital streaming, and movie downloads, it's the goal of any film that it must be good enough to hold up on multiple viewings, and sadly, Drive Angry falls woefully short of this goal. But I defy you to not have an absolute blast while watching it for the first time.

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