Back in 1995, Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his lead role in “Leaving Las Vegas,” but lately he has accepted far less noteworthy parts in flops such as this year’s “Season of the Witch.” However, the clichéd “Drive Angry 3-D” is an oddly fulfilling movie showcasing a reinvigorated and refocused Cage.
Set in the Deep South, convicted felon Milton (Cage) has literally been to hell and back. He breaks from a trap in the underworld in order to rescue his baby granddaughter from a satanic cult. Milton enlists the help of Piper (Amber Heard), a sexy young waitress with a mean streak, to defeat the cult and dodge the devil’s right-hand man, The Accountant, who is eager to bring Milton back to his fiery cell.
The movie recycles plot elements from previous Cage films in a highly cohesive and successful manner. “Ghost Rider,” which also features Cage as a hell-dwelling vigilante, is a film that audiences laughed at, not with. While on paper Milton is similar to Ghost Rider with his moxie and uncanny ability to kill people, he isn’t a fiery skull demon. Rather, Milton possesses realistic human emotions.
Cinematographer Brian Pearson balances the 3-D effects well with more organic and less technological aspects of the picture. The depth and clarity of the 3-D is easy on the eyes, and Pearson uses the technology without any gimmicky fluff. Rather than having objects continually pop off the screen, he takes a more naturalistic approach by focusing on blocking, which highlights the actors’ movements and strengthens their onscreen chemistry. As a result, “Drive Angry” is more like visual art than another 3-D extravaganza emptying viewers’ wallets.
The film’s only megastar is Cage, while the rest of the cast is made up of less notable actors like William Fichtner. Fichtner, who plays The Accountant, adopts a Joe Cool attitude that gives his character an ease of persuasion reminiscent of Capt. Jack Sparrow. Cage and Heard’s onscreen chemistry displayed in their father-daughter-like relationship adds a serious, dramatic edge to the film.
“Drive Angry” tries to modernize the exploitative, gritty style of 1970’s grindhouse movies. Heard’s oozing sex appeal is unabashedly played up as she dons short shorts and tight shirts. Composer Michael Wandmacher’s music works well with the throwback theme, blending funky, energetic beats with action.
Sadly, Todd Farmer and writer-director Patrick Lussier’s script isn’t as engaging as the score. In one particularly cheesy exchange between Fichtner and Cage, “Wouldn’t wanna be you when Satan finds out! What’s he gonna do, not let me back in?” the actors embrace the script and deliver tongue-in-cheek lines to great effect.
One of the film’s weakest parts are the car chases. In 2000, the visceral, asphalt-hugging film “Gone in Sixty Seconds” featured Cage as a carjacker. The highflying racing sequences are very similar to this film, albeit in two-dimension. While all of the chases were necessary in “Sixty,” Milton’s pursuit of the cult in “Drive Angry” is merely a time filler and gets old.
The success of this 104-minute romp is far from accidental. The 3-D coexists with the story line, and while Cage’s acting still isn’t a national treasure, he delivers a scintillating performance this time around.
“Drive Angry 3-D” was written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier and directed by Patrick Lussier.
3 out of 4 stars