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June 19, 2011

DVD Review: Drive Angry

Probably better than you were expecting, and probably are worth a watch (especially at Red Box prices), but not really actually good.

Also, bear in mind the Unexpected Christian-Disrespecting Content Warning posted in white font (invisible until you click over it) below.

Drive Angry. Two and a half stars (out of four).

Nic Cage claimed, like all actors do, that he was the hugest fan ever of the superhero he depicted in a movie. In Cage's case, it was the disappointing, but not Daredevil-level disappointing, Ghost Rider.

Well, I think he was telling the truth about that because he basically made Ghost Rider Part II: This Time We Don't Have To Pay Marvel For The IP Rights.

This movie isn't great, but I really enjoyed its dopey, determined-to-entertain spirit. This is one of those movies where it seems like they focus-grouped a bunch of 14-year-old boys what they'd like to see in a movie -- "I'd like a movie that explores the theme of Heavy Metal album cover depictions of Hell;" "I would appreciate the symbolic tension of ramming a broken bat through someone's eye" -- and I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. You wouldn't want to take a 14 year old boy's advice on much, but as far as girls, cars, guns, and explosions, they have a good enough bead on things.

The movie opens with a vision of Hell -- looking a bit like a 19th century industrial-labor-camp prison, but with an orange, firey sky -- and, if I've googled this correctly, a black 1964 Riviera escaping out of it along a bridge over a lake of fire.

Yes, they have muscle cars in Hell.

And over this image, the great William Fitchner narrates something or other about not even "the badest-ass motherf**ers in Hell" being able to escape. At least not for long.

Having escaped from Hell to the physical world (we never see the actual mechanism of the transition from one plane to another, though, given the movie's basic tone, it almost certainly would involve a car-jump over a lake filled with fire-breathing alligators), our hero, John, ahem, Milton, is now chasing down some Bad Guys like Mad Max with a sloppy mullet. He shoots them with a tactical shotgun, subtracting one guy's hand from his body with a blast. He gets information from them about the Big Bad, and leaves the wreckage to burn.

Does he walk away from the conflagration in slow-motion? Of course he does. Burn, baby, burn.

As his Hell Car was totaled in that chase, he goes on foot to a diner and decides to make friends with a pretty waitress, not because she's pretty, but because he's noticed (if I've googled this right) she has a black 1969 Challenger with the license plate DRIVE ANGRY) in the parking lot, and that's just swell.

At this point the movie becomes a two way chase. Johh, ahem, Milton and his waitress with the hot ride chase after the minions of a Satanic cult leader who intends to sacrifice Milton's granddaughter at the moment of the true full moon, and thereby open a gateway to Hell or gain demonic power or, I don't know, who cares. Whatever.

And meanwhile William Fitchner, playing some kind of supernatural marshal only called "The Accountant," chases John, ahem, Milton. Fitcher is dressed in the FBI's uniform of sensible navy suit and dark tie, and has a special Demon Coin with a cute magical power. I think he felt the basic role here was a little similar to his role as Agent Alex Mahone on Prison Break, so he plays this ruthless, implacable, but kind of funny demon-hunter with a queeny kind of prissiness. The performance works, given the goofy context of the movie, but there's always a big Wink to the audience implied here. And even a B-level William Fitchner performance is better than most people's A.

On the negative side of things: This is not a big budget film and despite all this pre-release hype I'm reading about doing these awesome car chases with real cars and no CGI... I was pretty bored with the car chases, which were not particularly high-speed nor particularly inventive nor particularly metal-crunching spectacular. And I'm pretty sure I saw some CGI rear-projection when the camera is in the interior of the cars. I actually wondered if this movie had a different working title, and "Drive Angry" was selected late in the process to suggest a more car-chase-heavy movie than it actually is.

Oh, the movie has some damn pretty cars. And the movie obviously loves these cars. But in terms of action direction, the car stuff was very middle-of-the-road low-side-of-middle-budget stuff.

Also on the sort-of negative side: Shoot 'Em Up had a similar spirit of "Let's just be stupidly juvenile here." Shoot 'Em Up also featured a scene where Clive Owen is having sex with Monica Belucci as a whole team of bad guys enter the room to kill them, and, of course, never stops having sex as he kills 20 guys, because, well, it's Monica Belucci. You don't stop.

That scene is given an homage here, and by given an homage, I mean they just ripped it off completely. The only change they seem to make is that there are somewhat fewer gun-kills in favor of a few more hand-to-hand weapon kills.

Doesn't really bother me all that much -- I can afford to see the same scene a couple of times -- but a clear swipe. And also-- no Monica Belucci.

On the plus side, the actress playing the Waitress, Amber Heard, is actually pretty damn good. You have to have a specific skill-set to be a good actress in one of these kinds of movies. You have to be eye-candy (obviously), but you also have to project a fiery, bad-girl persona that suggests you are the sort of woman who punches men in the face when she feels like punching them in the face. Despite her hot looks, she does punch a guy in the face with a fair amount of emotional conviction. Cage and Fitchner play their parts more broadly, but Heard actually seems to want to turn in a semi-plausible performance, and actually succeeds. (Note: I said "semi.")

Another plus is the the inspiration from drive-in action movies of the 70s. I remember a part of Magnum Force where Harry Calahan's pretty, hippie-ish downstairs neighbor asks him, out of nowhere, "What does a girl have to do to sleep with you?" (Answer, IIRC: "Try knocking.") 70s action movies tended to push the Hero Gets Sex So Easy fantasy alongside the Hero Kills Bad Guys So Easy fantasy. I always thought that was a little pander-ish, as if I was to get super-excited by the idea that someone, not me, was getting laid.

But, having said that, Hollywood has really run away from that completely, where every action hero is divorced or on the rocks in his relationship, and is totally like a normal guy in the gettin' action department, and has feelings and stuff because he's a well-rounded character.

Well, in this movie, a waitress (not Amber Heard, but the actress who played Kenny Powers' old flame in East Bound and Down) immediately suggests she'd like to sleep with John, ahem, Milton, and he responds by grabbing her by hair and sucking face on her. Unappetizingly, which is the whole point. A subtle bit of goofing on itself. Okay, maybe subtle isn't the right word. Just a little shout out: Hey, remember the 70s, when these guys all had to dodge high-quality ginch like so many machine-gun bullets?

And now a Minor Spoiler/Content Warning for Religiously-Minded Movie Goers. This is in white-color font, so it's invisible; drag your mouse over it and hold to get it to appear. Edit: Since some people are surprised at the idea of white-font spoiler material: This is in White Font not to protect the dignity of Christians from reading such Unspeakable Thoughts, but because this particular bit of discussion is about an Act III (end of the movie) plot turn, and is therefore a minor spoiler. As I said. "Minor Spoiler." Decide for yourself if you need to read the Spoiler material, or skip to the end.

Back when I was always trying to think of plots exactly like this (you know, the Terminator with a different backstory), I had a minor twist on the Satan mythology: What if Satan wasn't the Prince of Evil, but instead just a bureaucrat still working for God, just administering the prison called Hell?

This movie has the same idea, and trots it out in Act III, to explain a very minor plot twist which is not really a twist but just what you assumed would happen anyway. And it could have been explained with a simple line: "I don't like my boss." If you see the movie, you'll know what I mean.

Anyway, the reason I discarded that idea was simple: It's a cute-ish idea, a cute-ish spin on old mythology. But it alienates a lot of the public who take the actual Satan mythology more seriously than as a bit of fiction to play with and subvert for the sake of minor plot point.

So, in this movie, William Fitchner informs us that Satan actually doesn't like it when a bunch of ignorant inbred morons sacrifice a baby in his name, and actually is just a guy with the job title of Warden of Hell, and is actually a "quiet, thoughtful man. Reads a lot." (Or words to those effect.)

Now, this little idea is absolutely unnecessary to the plot. It also implies, or flat-out says, that the Satanists' idea of sacrificing the baby to open a door to hell is doomed to fail, for there is no such spell at all, and Satan isn't interested in the dumb rituals they've cooked up.

Although I do think it's a borderline-cute idea, I don't get why moviemakers would be so thoughtless, or so unconcerned, about alienating a solid 25-33% of their anticipated audience for an idea that really is pretty obvious reconfiguration of the myth and not the sort of thing that's going win someone an award for screenwriting.

It's just a comic-book-level cutesy idea. Worth it? I don't think so.

It's not the idea that bothers me, since I don't take the Satan mythology very seriously. It's the idea that they knew, or should have known, this barely-worth-it notion would put off people, ticket-buyers, and just didn't seem to care.

Maybe I'm too sensitive on this, and religious people will tell me, "Meh, no big deal."

The only vaguely pro-Christian spin I can give this 30-second-patch of the film is, "Well, at least it's saying that Satanists are stupid buffoons in addition to being evil.

Anyway, summing up, sort of crappy movie that knows it's sort of a crappy movie but also knows that sort of crappy movies can be kind of fun, or at least should be.

A lot of movies will feature the Hero, sounding all bad-ass, vowing to not only kill the Villain, but post murder, disrespect his corpse in some novel way.

And in most movies, of course, that's just a bit of Tough Guy bluster.

This is the sort of movie where the Hero is a little bit more literal than usual.

And that's something.

Other Reviews: Adam Carolla and Bill Simmons didn't seem to like it. Scan down; one of the first five entries on this page. Edited: A commenter said they liked it, but so far, they don't seem to.

The Red Letter Media guys kinda liked it.

It's that kind of a movie, like a catchy, disposable, derivative pop song, where you kinda like it, but aren't really sure you should.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:15 PM

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