We all knew that Blu-ray was here to stay when horror back catalogue titles started to come through, and even more than that when titles that some may consider unsavoury started to appear. Titles such as Cannibal Taboo or Faces of Death are hardly mainstream titles and to be released onto a brand new format was a terrific sign that the mainstream was picking up on the HD revolution. It would be nice to say that the even newer format of 3D was starting to be picked up by the mainstream, but there are, unfortunately, problems abound. Older titles are obviously 2D and whilst they can go through a lengthy and expensive conversion process, the results are generally not favourable due to technology limitations and the major fact that such films are meant to be 2D and not 3D, the film grammar is very different. Thus, if 3D is to be adopted to some of the less ‘unsavoury’ titles they will have to be made from new. This process has already begun, of course, with titles such as My Bloody Valentine (review coming soon) and tonight’s feature Drive Angry both being native 3D features, but both are rather limited in terms of audience and acceptance. I applaud the filmmakers for taking the technology and running with it for these R-rated films, it's just, I wish we could have something worthy to carry the format forward.
Since we’ve look at Drive Angry in its 2D guise already on site, I don’t propose to spend a huge amount of time looking at the synopsis, I will therefore content myself with observing one or two personal thoughts about the plot before moving onto a more detailed look at the picture.
John Milton, the main character in the film is played by Nick Cage, an actor that I’ve never really felt was any good, something about his hair, that grin and that drawl really doesn’t sit quite right with me. Yes he’s done plenty of films, many of them watchable, but for me his characterisations tend to fall quite flat, no matter how powerful the performance is. If, as is the case here, the character is pretty one dimensional to begin with, then, for me, there is going to be pretty much no hope. Milton is on a mission, a mission to save a baby from being murdered – the baby is his granddaughter, the murder is a satanic sacrifice – and he’s escaped from Hell to prevent it. There you are, not only have I just summed up the character, but the plot of the film. And that is the major problem with Drive Angry, it is completely one dimensional, written (apparently in one draft) in an almost adolescent manner trying to encapsulate everything that will appeal to a young male audience – fast cars, big guns and loose women. And it knows it. But not in a good way. It lacks finesse and it lacks reason, but biggest of all it lack heart. There are plenty of films that can survive on a one line plot, Taken, is perhaps the best example, because at its core there was that drive of a father trying to save his daughter. Drive Angry has an extremely similar plot line, but adds in a supernatural element that is never fully explained and in doing so lessens the impact of a cult killing a mother, kidnapping her daughter and wanting to sacrifice it to their deity. The film is all about Cage and his quest, when it could have been all about the kidnap and Cage's desperation to save the child – see the difference?
Along for the ride we have Amber Heard as Piper. When we meet her she is a sassy waitress in a doomed relationship and we’re lead to believe that Milton picks her out of everyone in the world to follow him. She was pretty good in this role, showing enough spunk to put up with the horror on the road, but with an innocence and vulnerability shown when she brings milk and muffins to an underprivileged couple dining at the place she works. She is purely there as an expositional device, of course, as without her and her dawning of understanding we’d pretty much be in the dark about Milton and where he’s from. Our other mystery man is William Fichtner who plays a rather enigmatic character called the Accountant who is a kind of soul chaser for the Devil, though whether or not he is there to capture Milton, or just see him fail, is left open. Fichtner who has one of those instantly recognisable faces, even if you can never quite remember his name, plays the part with the typical aloofness required of a supernatural being that is impervious to damage. Special mention to horror legend Tom Atkins, who makes a brief cameo and has some of the best lines in the whole thing!
Of course, it is possible for a film with a wafer thin plot to survive on its style, but even that seems to have missed the mark here. Shot natively in 3D every shot seems composed to throw stuff out of the screen and it very quickly becomes dull, lord knows what it must look like in 2D where you don’t even get that effect. But more than that the set pieces aren’t particularly well designed or executed – there is no real jeopardy and it is shot in such a way that we don’t care what happens. Milton having a major shoot out while still having sex might sound great on paper, but its execution looks juvenile and ridiculous. And trying to explain away grand ideas with a simple one line not only smacks of lazy writing but it's also pretty insulting to boot.
When all is said and done there is very little to be positive about Drive Angry, it has precious little story, a poor style executed badly and rather uniform and ordinary characterisation from its actors. Big dumb fun can’t even be applied because its takes itself so seriously that there is no fun to be had, well save Atkins' ‘tyre’ lines. It may have the benefit of being the second R-rated film in 3D and I applaud the makers for trying to bring something so trashy to the main, but seriously trashy films can still be fun and Drive Angry simply isn’t.
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