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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Drive Angry (Release Date:2-25-2011)

        Fill in the blank: Nicolas Cage is a(n) ___________ actor. If you answered 'incredible,' chances are you haven't been within fifteen miles of a showing of The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, or Bangkok Dangerous. If you answered 'terrible,' you likely haven't had the pleasure of seeing Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, or Wild at Heart. If you answered 'confusing,' well... you're not alone. Born into Hollywood's royal family (the Coppolas), Cage has thus far used his career to give a migraine to anyone who tries to put a label on him, alternating between fully-realized characterizations of gleeful mania, and filling up the $5 bin at your local grocery store. There's no denying the actor's strange, impossible-to-duplicate energy, but there's all kinds of denying his taste in movies, a reality that Drive Angry seems particularly disinterested in changing.
        Cage's latest addition to his collection of absurd characters goes by the name John Milton, a straight-faced, largely mute badass who's on a mission. Showing up one day in middle-of-nowhere Colorado, the only things that we really know about Milton for the majority of the movie are that he is vaguely invincible, and doesn't think twice before taking a life. By virtue of converging coincidences, he teams with Piper (Amber Heard), a local blonde bomb-shell with venom to spare. The two set out on a revenge mission that is far more fun to discover on one's own than to just read about it, but suffice to say if you like shot-guns, satanists, and breast implants, you won't be disappointed.

        Just like any other genre out there, it takes a specific type of smarts and finesse to make a proper B-Movie, and Director Patrick Lussier has the goods. His last movie, My Bloody Valentine, walked the same horror/comedy tight-rope, using its 3-D in the most jarring, playfully grotesque way possible, throwing guts and weaponry at the audience whenever possible. Drive Angry diverts from this formula not at all, shotgun shells hopping right in front of your face within the first three minutes. It's the exact kind of excess that 3-D hold-outs will tell you distracts from a plot, and cheapens a story, an argument that Lussier's movies seem untainted by. With plots far too absurd to place any weight in, and stories already as cheap as they come, why not let the intestines fly?

        Drive Angry feels slightly more comedically focused than Valentine, but that might just be a product of its improved cast. No one in the business can make crazy eyes like Cage, and the movie is determined to find every opportunity for him to utilize that skill. The man is not above using his imagine as a joke of sorts, stoic and goofy line-readings making it clear that he's in on the joke. Heard swears and fights with reckless abandon, though it's immediately clear that acting skills aren't exactly why she landed the part. In the spirit of not spoiling the movie's perfectly nonsensical plot, I can't feel right about telling you exactly what William Fichtner and Billy Burke are up to in the supporting cast, but their contributions are one with both Cage's and Heard's in terms of gaudy, larger-than-life silliness.

        Fresh off the lowest grossing opening weekend for a widely released 3-D movie since the mass reintroduction of the technology ($5.2 Million, sliding under the previous record of $6.8, held by last October's Wes Craven also-ran My Soul to Take), there's little to no doubt that Lussier will never be handed a real budget again, which is a shame. The man has the makings of a real B-movie auteur, not unlike Robert Rodriguez, an artist with minimal interest in deliberate artfulness. Both have a tendency to let their movies run a little long, and can also seem a bit flustered by just how to pace a movie that makes its bones on shock value. But if there's anything that Tarantino's Death Proof taught us, it's that the type of mania that must be constructed to pull off a proper B-Movie isn't something that just anyone can tap into, no matter how talented. It takes a specific type of devil-may-care edge and verve, things that both Drive Angry, and its helmer, have in spades.

Grade: B

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