Nic Cage shows he can be an exploitation star, too
Nicolas Cage may have an Oscar, and both critical and commercial success, but he’s always had an almost bizarre approach to picking film roles. For every Matchstick Men and Adaptation there’s a Con Air and a National Treasure. With most actors there’s a path they tend to follow and roles they take on; Cage mixes action films, genre picture and prestige films into his cinematic resume with no real regard to maintaining any sort of status. He’s not positioning himself as an actor star, a first rate dramatic actor or a genre star. He seemingly picks roles out of a hat, beginning 2011 with a fantasy piece Season of the Witch and throwing in an exploitation style film with Drive Angry.
Milton (Cage) is a dead man on a mission. Breaking out of hell, he has one mission: save his infant granddaughter from a cult led by Jonah King (Billy Burke), a madman who wants to sacrifice her for nefarious purposes. Joined up by a woman looking for a purpose named Piper (Amber Heard) and hunted down by Satan’s right hand man known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner) looking to return him to Hell. What follows is a Terminator style chase film, with Milton being both pursued and the pursuer, mired in pure exploitation.
That’s the big motif Patrick Lussier is going for. Not known for having a high class film resume, mainly direct to video and b-movie schlock, Lussier scored a surprise hit with a remake of My Bloody Valentine in 2009 and has gone back to his roots in the modern exploitation genre with Drive Angry. This is the action equivalent to Valentine riffing on horror, banking on the cheesiness of it all as opposed to making a great movie. He’s not known as a skilled auteur so it’s not shocking that this would be right up his alley; he’s made a handful of cheap wannabe exploitation films already so now he finally has the budget for an expensive looking one. It doesn’t hurt he has a first rate cast that realizes this salient fact and embraces it.
There isn’t any good acting in this film and one wonders if Lussier could get a good performance out of an actor on purpose. What he does is allow his cast to embrace the absurdity of it all and run with it. Cage seems to really be enjoying himself as an exploitation film star, embracing his role as a man trying to right a wrong with absurd amounts of violence. Fichtner matches him as the Devil’s bounty hunter with plenty of zeal to match. If they had been in their prime in the 1970s this is the sort of film both would be in as they seem like natural fits for the era. They add something more into the film that otherwise would keep it from being a terrible film. If anything they elevate it into something just slightly above mediocre.
But that’s not an insult towards Lussier; this is perhaps his best film ever, all things considered, and he has a flair for entertainment behind the camera. He may not make good films but he keeps them entertaining at a bare minimum; there’s always something comical or cringe worthy on the screen. He doesn’t leave it boring at any point; if it’s entertaining on any level, or at least enough to illicit a reaction, it’s in this film. Lussier may not have made a good film but it never ceases to keep your attention and focus. It shows some ability to at least know your audience on some level. This is an exploitation flick boiled down to almost it’s pure essentials and Lussier is smart enough to not try and reinvent this particular wheel.
Drive Angry doesn’t promise much but delivers it fairly well, all things considered. It may not be a brilliant film, or even a good one, but it’s an entertaining misfire at worst and a colorful tribute in the vein of Grindhouse.
Director: Patrick Lussier Notable Cast: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, David Morse, Billy Burke Writer(s): Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.