While serious-minded critics are still trying to figure out what 3D can do to enhance the cinematic experience, director Patrick Lussier is having a blast with the as-of-now gratuitously revived technology. Drive Angry is Lussier’s latest unambitious but satisfying sleazefest, a movie that gets by entirely thanks to its ample energy and considerable love of crotch-grabbing bad-ass posturing. Reteaming with My Bloody Valentine 3D co-writer Todd Farmer (the sole credited screenwriter on Jason X), Lussier is at his best when shooting bouncy, loud, and joyfully absurd action scenes. Everything else in Drive Angry 3D, from its messy and arrhythmic script to its shameful strait-jacketing of star Nicolas Cage, who snarls and hides behind his sunglasses through most of the film, coasts on the good graces of Lussier’s visual flair. He is arguably the first bona fide 3D artiste, someone that’s fully embraced 3D photography’s flashy and cheap possibilities—look out, that fire axe is headed straight for ya!—and is all the more refreshing for his abject refusal to take himself seriously.
Drive Angry 3D thrives on its flagrantly juvenile premise, something so dopey that it could have been taken from a bad, err, maybe just shelved, Russ Meyer movie. Milton (Cage) just escaped from Hell and is on his way to retrieve his granddaughter from the clutches of Jonah King (Billy Burke), the leader of a backwater satanic cult that looks like it’s based out of the church where Roger Corman shot Wild Angels. Jonah killed Milton’s daughter, and now Milton’s on his way to make sure that his granddaughter doesn’t suffer the same fate. He hitches a ride with Piper (Amber Heard), a hottie that drives around in a black Dodge Charger, and uses her vehicle to hunt down Jonah while running from the Oklahoma state troopers and Death himself, here called “The Accountant” (William Fichtner doing a dialed-down but nonetheless fantastic Christopher Walken impression). Basically, the film is a feature-length Meatloaf song, and Lussier acknowledges this by having “Alive” play before the film’s end credits roll.
Still, like a Meatloaf song, Drive Angry 3D is unable to sustain the impossible pace it initially sets for itself. About midway through, the film has long run out of gas even if it does infrequently come to life with a lot of bravado and goofy showmanship, like in the scene where the Accountant gets shot for the first time or the one where he blows through a police barricade with a truck full of hydrogen fuel. The film’s energy is infectious and totally winning, which is what makes its tepid third act such a letdown. Lussier’s attempt to jam character actors Tom Atkins and David Morse into the film’s already busy narrative is admirable but nevertheless a real buzzkill. I’m really looking forward to seeing Lussier and Farmer slow down and make a movie that doesn’t seem like it was shot to meet an impossible deadline. For now, Drive Angry 3D will do.