Sunday, August 19, 2012

Drive Angry

Ah, Nicholas Cage. Like the moon, chocolate melting for a ganache or an overly dramatic teenage girl, you have many phases. The cute guy in Valley Girl. The promising performer of The Cotton Club. The comedian of Raising Arizona. The leading man of Moonstruck. The edgy hero of Wild at Heart. The gifted actor of Leaving Las Vegas... then came The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous and a seemingly weekly appearance in some of the worst motion pictures in recent history.

But there is a shining light amongst the low moments of this man's career: Drive Angry. Drive Angry is the best piece of Grindhouse schlock in years. Really, if you eliminate Robert Rodriguez's work in the genre (Planet Terror, Machete), no one has made such an inspired piece of crap in some time. Yes, it's better than Hobo With a Shotgun.
Okay, not a lot better, but better.

Cage plays Milton, a dead ex-con. Dead, as in not alive, and not alive as in, in Hell. Hell looks kind of like Gary, Indiana or maybe someplace with a lot of fracking ("The fire isn't the worst part. It's the video feed."), and Nicholas Cage busts out in a Buick Riviera.  We then cut to a small town in Colorado (its own kind of Hell) where three greasy, cussing rednecks in a rusted out pickup truck are being pursued by Nicholas Cage and his Buick Riviera. Just over two minutes in, we've got our first car chase, our first car crash, several shotgun deaths and a big explosion.
Undead Nicholas Cage has returned to a world of V-8 engines, tawdry motor courts and dingy dive bars where absolutely everyone is white trash. He meets a waitress, played by Amber Heard (somewhat reminiscent of gorgeous, tough 70's exploitation goddess Cheri Caffaro, whose Ginger movies i will get to eventually) who has a bitchin' '69 Dodge Charger and who takes no fucking bullshit off of anyone. No-Bullshit Waitress quits her job and joins up with Nicholas Cage on his quest to Drive Angry because... well, just because. Because do we really want more exposition here? Fuck no!
That's the dude who wrote this movie. No, really, it is.

We also meet The Accountant (William Fichtner, in one of those standout B-movie supporting roles that makes you long for a sequel dedicated just to this character), who has come from Hell to fetch Nicholas Cage back -- balancing the books and all that, apparently. He's got a sharp suit, an icy line of patter ("I won't see you until you're 73. You... I'll see in three months."), a mild taste for necessary sadism and a knack for impersonating an FBI agent at just the right time.
Courtesy of a flashback, we also learn that Nicholas Cage's daughter joined a Satanic cult, then quit the Satanic cult, then bit the head Satanist's dick off. The head Satanist looks like a cheap Tom Jones impersonator and talks like Foghorn Leghorn. It is no wonder that, as The Accountant later explains to us, Satan himself ("He's a quiet man -- thoughtful and well-read.") finds these Satanists quite distasteful indeed. I'm not sure what anyone would hook up with these people: They're mean, stupid, unattractive, drive shitty cars and their climactic Satan-summoning orgy looks more like a small-time Woodstock held in a junkyard -- lousy music, ugly naked people, domestic beer, no toilets....
Waitresses continue to hit on Nicholas Cage. (However, things between Nicholas Cage and No-Bullshit Waitress remain platonic, if not downright paternal.) This despite the fact that he looks like old unwashed David Carradine at the end of a five-day bender and fucks not only with all his clothes on, but his sunglasses as well. However, when a half-dozen armed thugs bust into the sleazy motel room, he can kill them all without pulling his prong out of the waitress du soir or dropping his bottle of Jack Daniels. It all happens in slow motion while the Raveonettes play!
I like Drive Angry because, as Toki says about the coked-up clown, it makes me laughs. Fucked-up shit happens that makes one chuckle, be it casual impalement on a broken baseball bat, a thug accidentally putting his machete through his own head or exploding cars number fourteen through twenty-two. Go, go Grindhouse!

The Satanists lure Nicholas Cage with a fake church service and then take off in their... Winnebago. Yes, the Satanists drive a Winnebago! Yes, there's a Charger/Winnebago car chase. Some more ass-kicking and shotgunning. Topless chicks with 45's. A sweet red Chevelle with racing stripes. And a melting skull and what i think is a black hole. And dialogue like:
"I am going to kill you. And then I am going to defile your corpse."
"But between now and then, I'm gonna fuck you up."
Can Nicholas Cage make it through the police roadblock? Roadblocks? Can Nicholas Cage pry a bullet out of his own eye socket? Will Nicholas Cage rescue his grandbaby from the Satanists? Will Nicholas Cage defeat Tom Jones Foghorn Leghorn Satanist and, as he so ardently hopes, "drink a beer out of his skull?"
Drive Angry is nothing is not a good fucking time at the movies. And, really, isn't that enough? My old sensei Bob Christgau used to point out that just having fun is one of the most sublime human experiences. Or something like that... But what do we have to look forward to next from Mr. Cage? Another ex-con out for vengeance flick. Not one but two movies where he needs to find his kidnapped daughter. A movie where he tracks a serial killer with the help of the girl from High School Musical. The voice of a prehistoric crocodile in a Dreamworks animation. A musical with Jack Black and Steve Carrell. At this rate, Drive Angry is gonna be the best work he does this decade.

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