Every year there’s always a handful of films which gets little to no love from both critics and audiences. These are titles that for one reason or another get left by the wayside. Some say these films are awful. Some say they’re weren’t in the theaters long enough for people (or even critics) to notice. Yet, these films will get it’s vocal and ardent supporters and fans who sees through all the flaws and warts and find a rough gem that really entertains. One such film for 2011 is the supernatural-action film from filmmaker Patrick Lussier simply titled, Drive Angry 3D. Yes, it’s a 3D film and not one of those post-conversion deals but shot from start to finish in 3D.
Drive Angry 3D harkens back to the good, dirty era of grindhouse films. Films with simple storylines and even simpler dialogue. They were made on the cheap (though with a budget of 35-40million this film definitely not low-budget) and cramed full of everything that could be exploited to bring in the audience: sex, violence and lots of nudity. Lussier’s film definitely has all three in abundance. With Nicolas Cage headlining a cast of veteran genre actors and a spitfire of a female sidekick, Drive Angry 3D was a grindhouse film at its very core.
The story could’ve come from any number of revenge films of the 1970’s. Cage plays John Milton (I kid you not) who escapes Hell itself to seek vengeance on the Satanic cult and their leader Jonah King (Billy Burke sporting a slithery Southern accent that’s one step over excessive but oh so fun to hear) for killing his daughter and kidnapping his baby granddaughter. A baby to be sacrificed by Jonah King and his followers to usher in an era of Hell on Earth. Just going over that brief synopsis one could just imagine this film being made in the 1970’s with country rock playing in the background.
Along the way in his quest for vengeance and redemption, Milton comes across Piper (played with crackling gusto by the lovely Amber Heard in the shortest Daisy Dukes I’ve ever seen on film) who becomes his partner in his quest through some shared encounters which shows Piper not as a damsel-in-distress but a young woman who can kick ass as much as Milton does. The fact that she didn’t appear in any form of nakedness throughout the film was a sign that she wasn’t a woman to be messed with.
While it Milton and Piper going after King and his Satanic-cult inbreds wasn’t enough action for one film Lussier and screenwriter Todd Farmer (he also played the role of Piper’s philandering fiancee who gets knocked around a bit by almost everyone) decided to bring in the character of the Accountant (played with an almost childish glee by William Fichtner) who has followed Milton from Hell to bring him back and an item that was taken from Lucifer’s own stash of goodies. Watching the Accountant play someone not used to being human play-act as one definitely became some of the funnier scenes in the film. That’s also why this film was such a fun ride to sit through. Everyone in the cast seemed to be having a blast playing their characters to the hilt. Even David Morse in the role of a Webster as the aging sidekick of Milton’s before his trip to Hell looked to be into his role.
But enough of trying to explain the story and how the actors performed. Drive Angry 3D is all about action and action of every kind. This film oozed action from its very being. We had car chases with some of the most beautiful classic muscle cars in existence. We first get to witness Piper and her 1969 Dodge Charger 440 R/T then for the last third of the film twin 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454’s. This film is such a throwback to the car chase action films of the 70’s like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It wasn’t just car chase action to be had and experienced. This film didn’t shy away from some very violent and up-close gunfights. One particular gunfight may just go down in history as one of the best as Cage’s character (still fully dressed) shoots it out with some of King’s thugs while having sex with the local waitress, smoking a cigar and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in one hand. Milton was one multitasking badass.
This film was all about excess and it’s why it held such an appeal to those who have seen it and have raved about it. It didn’t pay homage to grindhouse, but ended up as being one of the very films it tried and succeeded to emulate. Forget the gloss veneer of the film. A film doesn’t have to be dated and cheap-looking to be grindhouse. Both Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer wanted to make a badass film about a badass character doing badass shit and they succeeded.
Even the 3D used for this film actually worked. It helped that the crew actually used real 3D cameras to film every scene instead of doing post-conversion work of regular camera filmed scenes. Yes, there were scenes where things were made to come straight at the audience but it wasn’t so distracting as to ruin the experience. In fact, I would say that 3D added to this film’s appeal and fun. One reviewer had said that 3D should be reserved for use in films such as Drive Angry 3D. I won’t disagree.
Will this film be for everyone? I don’t think it is. Not everyone is ready for extreme excess of badassery from Cage, Heard and Fichtner.
Drive Angry 3D will be seen as a failure by those not involved in its production or by those who saw it and enjoyed it. There’s some truth in that, but I do think that this film succeeded in doing everything that was promised by its filmmakers and producers. It’s not an Oscar-baiting film or even one to be seen in the yearly film festivals and circuits. What this film has become was one hell of a ride that was all about kicking ass, taking names (screwing the local waitress while waiting for the ambush to come) and driving beautiful, fast cars. I do think that Lussier’s film looks like a cult-classic in the making as time passes and those who saw it while it was in the theaters should be proud to say that they saw it and liked it when most people couldn’t be bothered.
Now, where’s my pistol, cigar and bottle of Jack Daniels.