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Film Review: "Drive Angry"

Posted by Wesley Morris  February 25, 2011 06:00 AM

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Thumbnail image for Drive Angry.jpgIt must be handed to Nicolas Cage. He continues to boldly go where few actors willingly do: the Dumpster. His career now is almost completely reverse-engineered. Some actors aspire to emulate Brando and Hoffman. Cage wants to top Michael Dudikoff and Jeff Fahey. Even by the substandard precedent set by such landfill contributions as "Ghost Rider," "Next," "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," "Bangkok Dangerous," "Knowing," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and last month's "Season of the Witch," "Drive Angry" is something new for Cage – a movie that feels like it's straight from cable.

You laugh at the news that he plays a character called John Milton and that Milton is an escapee from Hell who wears a leather jacket and wispy blond hair and wants to stop a cult leader from sacrificing his infant granddaughter (yes, Ghost Rider can be a grandpa). As urgent as that sounds, it doesn't do much to prevent him from, say, conducting a motel-room shootout with a naked woman screaming in his lap ("I never disrobe before gunplay") and a giant cigar in his mouth. You laugh because there was no way such an absurd, badly done sequence could have happened without the hacks responsible for it laughing, too. 

This is the rare major release that permits – in swampy, criminally expensive 3D – the study of how some effects are too cruddy to achieve specialness, how not all stuntpeople, dancing extras, and men playing State Trooper Numbers Two and Three are created equal. You can also truly appreciate how not every burning car that's piloted over a camp of dancing cultists is awesome, which goes double for fake breasts – even in the aforementioned 3D format. This is a movie that began at the bottom of the barrel and saw no reason to climb out. 

But there is William Fichtner, who plows along as an agent of death. He looks hale and self-amused in a decent suit, his skin as tight as a pair of Spanx. David Morse and the horror veteran Tom Atkins show up here and there. And Billy Burke, better known as Bella's dad in the "Twilight" saga, plays the bayou cult leader. He looks terrible (like the lead singer in a Train cover band) and his southern accent sounds worse (like the songs such a band might sing). Burke's dialogue often sound as if it's been achieved by a line generator combining HBO's "True Blood," the Coens's "True Grit," and the unpublished sermons of Quentin Tarantino: "He is the blight and we are the rain. Go forth and pour your anger upon him!" That line and everything else are actually more "True Rhymes with Grit."  

Amber Heard in Drive Angry.jpgAmber Heard, a pert Texan, rides shotgun with Cage. She wears the requisite Daisy Duke shorts and a white tank top that refuses to stain and seems only to tighten around her chest as the minutes drain away. She's the bridge between Scarlett Johansson and Kristen Stewart, but I wouldn't feel safe crossing it. Shooting guns and screaming, Heard has the look here of an actress whose greatest ambition is to survive the opening hour of a slasher film. Cage manages to treat her better than the other men in this film: like a daughter. 

At this point, it's unclear whether Cage's ongoing attraction to this sort of film films represents a kind of bizarro megalomania: There's no one worse than me! But the trouble with "Drive Angry" is that his sheen of cool has now worn thin. Indeed, he handles much of the movie's killing and brooding using the last weapon we expect to experience under these circumstances: his professionalism. Eww.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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