Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Drive Angry (2011)

A surprisingly fun, self-aware enterprise, this relentlessly aggressive throwback to '70s car flicks such as Vanishing Point revolves around a near-psychopath as he attempts to rescue his kidnapped granddaughter from murderous satanists. The film never gets too much more complicated than that; aside from a couple of other characters, such as a beleaguered waitress and a mysterious "Accountant" in pursuit, the narrative is almost solely tied into the protagonist's quest for his missing granddaughter. The race-against-the-clock aspect, along with the cult aspect, reeks of '70s exploitation, and the film is definitely in that mold, eschewing logic for impact at any given moment. However, unlike similar exercises in action meta-awareness (like Shoot 'Em Up), this one actually knows where to draw its goofy/serious battle lines, with the slower moments having just as much dirty, grimey, pulpy energy as when it's at its most kinetic. That is not to say the action is not up to snuff; bullets fly at the screen, sex is rampant, and, for a film of this budget, the car stunts are surprisingly large-scale and well-rendered. And the cast, not an Ocean's 11 ensemble by any means, is wonderfully game.

I had read, prior to seeing the film, that Nic Cage plays against his strengths in this, going for a "Man With No Name" vibe, as opposed to his own patented explosivity; I call bullshit on that. While he is not screaming "It's murder! MURDER! And you're all guilty! GUILTY!!!", he is definitely aware of the silliness of the production, and takes his character to various extremes, but never condescends to the material; if I had to guess, I'd say this and Kick-Ass were more the kind of work he'd like to be doing than Sorcerer's Apprentice and Season of the Witch. As his waitress cohort and co-lead, Amber Heard is vicious, vivacious, and all sorts of awesome, giving this role a decent amount of humanity, and never once seeming like a desperate wannabe starlet running away from pyrotechnics. She has consistently turned in strong work in all that I've seen her in, but if she plays her cards right, Heard could easily make a career as a tough action heroine, sexier than Michelle Rodriguez and more fiery than Angelina Jolie. Billy Burke (who I recognized from Jane Austen's Mafia) is an effectively eerie villain, and David Morse shows up in an extended cameo as a friend of Cage, but the real highlight of the acting department is William Fichtner. Instantly recognizable, but elusively eclectic, Fichtner all but steals the film as the Accountant, seemingly toying with everybody in the film; neither a hero, nor a true villain, his character exists only to toy with civilians and to increase the stakes for Cage, both of which he does with a great sense of relish that I hope to see more of from the talented actor. He really has established himself as a modern day Warren Oates, or Elisha Cook, Jr., killing it in talented directors' work without ever worrying about being typecast or overexposed (remember his opening scene in Dark Knight?).

Highly Recommended for anyone who thinks that they'd like a movie called Drive Angry 3D starring Nicolas Cage and Amber Heard. Or for anyone who has ever said to themselves, "You know? They really don't make 'em like Vanishing Point anymore." I have. And they did.

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