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Drive Angry 3D

Cage in Control

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

A late press screening for a genre film, one pitched to exploitation fans for its hard R-rated mayhem usually doesnít bode well for moviegoers, discerning and non-discerning alike. Late-week screenings, a by-product of a studioís lack of faith in a particular film, usually mean fewer movie reviews, the better to separate as much hard-earned cash from moviegoers opening weekend (i.e., maximize reward, minimize risk). Sometimes, though not often, that lack of studio faith in a film, isnít warranted. Fortunately for everyone who didnít fall asleep during the screening, the studio should have screened Drive Angry 3D, writer-director Patrick Lussierís (My Bloody Valentine 3D, White Noise 2: The Light, Dracula: 2000) latest big-screen guilty pleasure, earlier in the week.

Drive Angry 3D centers on John Milton (Nicholas Cage), a small-time criminal and former resident of Hell (the ďrealĒ one, not a metaphorical one, though it works both ways). Not one to be stopped or slowed by dying prematurely in a shootout and/or suffering eternal damnation, Milton, so named for writer-poet John Milton, the author of ďParadise LostĒ (the one and only literary reference contained in Drive Angry 3Dís 104-minute running time), escapes from Hell, not to avenge his own death, but to avenge the death of his daughter at the hands of Jonah King (Billy Burke), the leader of an apocalyptic death cult. King wants to open the Gates of Hell and unleash the Apocalypse, crowning himself as the anti-Messiah (or something). To that, though, King needs Miltonís newly born granddaughter, or rather her ritual death, at the stroke of midnight in two days.

Satan (a.k.a., Hellís CEO/Warden) sends the Accountant (William Fichtner), a soft-spoken, business suit-wearing bureaucrat with supernatural powers to retrieve the missing Milton and return him to his rightful place in Hell. Milton, like every avenging exploitation character before him, wreaks gratuitous amounts of bodily pain and punishment (including the odd dismemberment for good, gory measure) on Kingís followers. Milton acquires a potential romantic interest (despite their relative age differences and his non-living status) and, more importantly, an ass-kicking partner in Piper (Amber Heard), a muscle car owning, Daisy Dukes-wearing ex-waitress with a mean streak and a solid right punch.

In Lussierís over-active, hyper-kinetic hands, Drive Angry 3Dís car stunts, fight scenes, and explosions are exploited in every dimension (e.g., width, depth, and projection). Moviegoers can expect numerous objects, some sentient (i.e., people), to tumble out of the screen toward their seats (and heads) as often as Lussier can manage. Story, unsurprisingly, comes in a distant second (if it comes in at all) to the sidestep-the-brain, go-for-the-gut thrills Lussier had in mind for Drive Angry 3D.

Working with co-writer Todd Farmer, his collaborator on My Bloody Valentine 3D, as well as the screenwriter for The Messengers and Jason X, Lussier relies heavily on simple elements: an avenging father/grandfather; an under-dressed, hotter-than-hot female sidekick; an unredeemable, cartoon villain (with retro sideburns no less); ultra-violent shootouts (the bloodier and the gorier the better to justify the R-rating; an apocalyptic plot; CG-enhanced car stunts; and cheesy dialogue to keep Drive Angry 3D moving at a rapid clip, an obvious plus for exploitation/genre fans.

What Drive Angry 3D also has, and itís a major plus, is another in a seemingly endless, inexhaustible series of Nicholas Cageís scenery-chewing, over-the-top, idiosyncratic performances. Itís difficult, almost impossible, to remember that Cage was once an actor with dramatic range and depth and an Oscar winner. The Nicholas Cage whoís appeared in 18 films since 2000 (not counting supporting turns or voice work) has had little interest in choosing projects that challenge him as an actor, instead choosing projects that have fattened his bank account (his financial difficulties have probably contributed to his ďNever Say NoĒ approach to accepting acting gigs). That aside, Cage is perfectly cast as Milton, a B-movie anti-hero if there ever was one. Subtlety isnít called for or needed, making Drive Angry 3D, for whatever itís worth, a perfect combination of material and movie star.