Everyone has their guilty pleasures, and moviegoers are no different. The Godfather is great and all, but sometimes you just want to see things blow up. Enter Drive Angry. Nicholas Cage plays John Milton (unfortunately not that John Milton), a man who has escaped from Hell, here imagined as a high-security prison, to avenge the death of his daughter and rescue his granddaughter from an evil cult, all the while pursued by William Fichtner’s sinister Accountant. Cue fast cars, fast women and a lot of gunplay.
Yet whilst often wonderfully entertaining, Drive Angry also manages to be a little dull. While some scenes certainly stand out (such as one in which Cage drinks beer out of a recently deceased enemy’s skull), director Patrick Lussier shows a little too much restraint, rarely letting the film be the daft epic it clearly wants to be – the constant car chases and gunfights don’t have enough of a mad-cap twist on them to make them memorable and even the scene where Cage kills several assailants while having sex has been done before in 2007’s Shoot Em Up.
Unfortunately Cage also seems similarly subdued. Given his memorably over-the-top performances in roles rather unsuited to them (as anyone who will have seen him shrieking about ‘the bees’ in Wicker Man can attest to), it is disappointing that here he underplays a role that calls out for insanity. Only on a couple of occasions does he really let loose – it’s unfortunate that we don’t see more of this.
Thank God then for Fichtner, who absolutely nails his performance. He plays his snappily-dressed Grim Reaper with a sardonic cool, tongue-planted very firmly in cheek, and any scenes featuring him are a joy to watch. Amber Heard as the short shorts wearing love interest and Billy Burke as a sinister redneck cult leader also bite into their roles with enthusiasm, but it is Fichtner who really gives the film a necessary jolt.
Drive Angry was never going to win any Oscars, but it could have been a grindhouse classic – all the elements are there, from devil-worshipping southerners to hot girls to a 1969 Dodge Charger. But with some notable exceptions, all involved seem a little scared of really going wild, with the result that Drive Angry never becomes as downright mental as it should be. Entertaining it may be, but a little more thought needed to go into making it as mindless as possible.