Rad Review: Drive Angry (2011)

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It seems impossible to tell if Nicolas Cage is a good actor. Instead of playing a character, he just controls how much of his inner lunatic he decides to let the camera see. Drive Angry from director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000, the My Bloody Valentine remake) lets Cage unleash the full flow of insanity as Milton, a guy who escaped hell to get revenge on cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed his daughter and snatched his grandaughter. Along the way he teams up with Amber Heard’s Piper, a tough young woman without much going on in her life aside from a cheating boyfriend and a crappy waitress job. As they operate their automobile in a perturbed fashion, Milton and PIper also have to stay several steps ahead of The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of Hell looking to bring back the escaped Milton.

amber heard drive angryLussier — who co-wrote the script with Todd Farmer (Jason X, the My Blood Valentine remake) — does a great job of having fun with this story. It’s not overly gory, but plenty of blood is spilled and bullets fired. The gore effects that do exist look just as gross as they should considering the wounds inflicted and the over-the-top style of the film. While the movie doesn’t get into hand-to-hand combat too often there’s plenty of excellent driving scenes, lots of gunplay and a few run-ins that show just how silly it is for regular ol’ humans to go up against supernatural entities.

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Actually, Heard gets her fists dirty more than anyone else in the movie and does a pretty serviceable job going up against dudes much bigger than her. She smacks around the woman her boyfriend’s cheating on her with before trying to give him the business end of an ass kicking. Later on, she throws down with King on an RV. After saying he’s going to kill her she drops this fantastic bit of dialog: “Between now and then, I’m gonna f*ck you up.” You might not think it to look at Heard in her other roles, but she delivers it like she means it, then backs it up. Good for her.

When it comes to the chase scenes, of which there many, Lussier gets pretty inventive with the car-eography. After a lifetime of watching car chases on television and in movies, they can get a little boring, but this one uses a lot of fun elements like the Accountant driving a Hydrogen truck into a small army of cop cars, stepping out on a truck and Milton driving just so to avoid the explosion. Sure, it looks a little CGI-y on Blu-ray, but it’s over pretty quickly and the idea is cool enough to outshine some execution flaws.

Speaking of of the Blu-ray presentation, it’s possible this movie looks too good. This is completely subjective, but since the film takes a lot of its cues from the grindhouse flicks of the 70s,  you sometimes want it to look a little less clean and pristine. It’s kind of like listening to a completely remastered version of a live Ramones show. Everything’s still there, but the grit is gone. That’s not to say this is a clean movie, there’s lots of death, carnage and nudity to go around, it all just looks really crisp and clear.

A few other highlights from the film include Tom Atkinson’s role as a local police captain. That guy’s pure gold in everything. Speaking of being great in everything, watching Cage and Fichtner on screen together is delightful. The fact that this is an original story with some big stars and a fairly good effects budget is also cool and something we’re seeing less and less of at the movies. After being disappointed with how Parker didn’t add much to the revenge/heist genre, it’s good to watch something like Drive Angry that did as much as it possibly could with the materials available.

Finally, did anyone see this in 3D? It was shot that way, but the Blu-ray rental from Netflix didn’t have the option. Drop a comment and let us know.

Halloween Scene: My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Faithful Kicking It Old School readers will remember that I only recently saw the original My Bloody Valentine, so it’s not like I have a huge amount of love for the original, even though I did like it. I was actually pretty excited when I heard about the remake, mostly because it would be in 3D. I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t playing in 3D anywhere near me and I got the DVD through Netflix, so I still haven’t seen it in 3D, but you bet your ass I’m gonna see the Pirana 3D remake when it comes out.

I ended up liking about 75% of MBV. The kills were cool, the cast was good and unlike, say, Friday the 13th III, I didn’t feel like I was watching a lesser movie because it wasn’t in 3D. Yes there are some gags solely filmed for the 3D audience, but it’s nothing cheesy like a yo-yo at the camera. Oh, plus, the killer in this movie, and the original, has one of the coolest and creepiest designs of all time. Love that mask and the all-black suit.

Before getting into the negative, a few more notes on the good stuff. The cast was rad. I even liked Jensen Ackles’ performance, dry as it may be, it fits his character. I wouldn’t be surprised if that dude ends up playing a superhero soon. I could even see him as Captain America if they wanted a younger guy (but, Matt Damon’s still my number one pick, age be damned). Fellow CW/WB alumni (Ackles is on Supernatural) Kerr Smith (Jack from Dawson’s Creek) also does a good job as the cop who seems like the prime suspect throughout the flick (unless you count his deputy who seems thrown in just to be a kinda-sorta suspect). It was also nice to see Jaime King again. I can’t for the life of me remember where I remember her from, but I feel like she was involved with something on MTV when I was younger. She gives a serviceable performance, though I never buy her as a mom. I also got the feeling that she was overacting a little because she was in a remake of an 80s horror movie. Or maybe that’s just how she acts, I’ve got nothing to compare it to.

My favorite two bits of casting though are of the two main older guys in town. You’ve got Tom Atkins of Halloween 3, Night of the Creeps and Lethal Weapon fame. I just love that guy. Kevin Tighe is the other old guy in town that matters. It’s not a name you might recognize, but you’ll definitely recognize his face as Locke’s asshole dad from Lost and from one of the best movies of all time Road House. And, SPOILER WARNING, they both get pretty amazing death scenes. I’ve never wanted to see a jaw flying at my face in 3D more in my life!

I’ve also got to give credit to the screenwriters and director Patrick Lussier for using the original movie like you would use images from a magazine to make a collage. The good elements (suspense over who the killer is, the killer’s look, the relationships, the party scene at the mine, the hearts in the heart boxes, etc.) are all there, just not in the exact same order as they were in the original, which is nice, because otherwise there aren’t any surprises. There were two specific scenes I really hoped got carried over from the original and they were: a woman in a laundry machine (though not in the same manner as the original which was cool) and the scene where the killer walks down the mine shaft knocking out the lights. That’s an awesome scene and they even added their own special effect/edit to it to make it their own.

Which brings me to what I didn’t like and this is definitely SPOILER territory because it has to do with the reveal of who the killer is. Now, because I had seen the original, I knew there was a twist. I was never convinced it was Harry Warden (the guy who went crazy 10 years ago and killed people and whose body was never recovered), but that’s because I’d seen the original. So, it basically comes down to Ackles and Smith because everyone else is either dead or has been chased by the killer. Then we get a scene where Ackles gets attacked by the killer along with another guy down in the mine. So, you think it’s gotta be Smith unless it really is the red herring deputy. So, you spend a good chunk of the movie expecting it to be Smith (who is married to King, even though King and Ackles have history as lovers as seen in the opening “10 years earlier” scenes). At this point I’m thinking that this isn’t very suspenseful because Smith’s gotta be the killer, right? Then it turns out that Ackles is crazy and has absorbed/co-opted the Harry Warden persona and has been killing everyone without knowing it. They don’t explain it, but I’m guessing split personality or whatever. The problem with this reveal is that I have a hard time rooting for the mentally sick guy to get his just deserts. That’s not how I get my horror rocks off.

And, unfortunately, the ending kind of taints the rest of the movie for me, kind of like High Tension, though this makes a lot more sense after the reveal. I do wish we would have gotten a little more explanation about Ackles’ condition. We hear over the walkie talkie that he was in a mental institute and we see him popping pills throughout the movie, but his malady is never explained and it seems like the filmmakers could have easily done that in the aftermath scene. I’m usually not in favor of having things spoon-fed to me, but I think it would have been appropriate in this case. Plus, if a dude has been mentally unstable for years, would laywers really let him have control over a mine that his dead father owned? Who knows.

Overall, it’s an okay horror movie. I think I’d rather watch the original again even though this one looked really really slick on the nice TV. I would definitely watch it again if someone had the 3D glasses. Heck, maybe Lionsgate will release a 2-pack, that’d be rad. I’d buy that.