Cults, angels, satanists, heaven, hell, booze, boobs, and shotguns. Oh, and the most stern MPAA warning ever: “… strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language.” That’s Drive Angry.
Err, wait, forgot about Nicholas Cage, about the only actor who could fit as a resurrected hell-spawned demon (or something) rampaging through the south, blasting anything that moves. There might only be a handful of background extras who are not killed or fired at as Cage’s character seeks revenge for his daughter’s death and her baby’s kidnapping. If they live, they exist as shotgun fodder.
Drive Angry is brazenly ludicrous, and why would you want it any other way? It’s too glossy and expensive to nail ’70s exploitation flair, but maybe this is a new generation, spurred on by the influx of 3D. In a way, as much as it may try to sell itself on sex, gore, and zany language, it is exploiting a new era of technology, and it probably wouldn’t exist were it not for added ticket value.
That would be a shame too, audiences never getting to experience The Accountant, a kind of/sort of spiritual agent out to track down Cage’s character and bring him back to his eternal damnation. William Fichtner is flippin’ brilliant here, producing a calming demeanor even as his car is spiraling off a bridge. This is post-megaphone conversation across that same bridge that seems to be setting a Guinness World Record for the lengthiest above-water overpass on the planet. The character can do no wrong.
He’s happy in his work, his gleeful personality salvaging the film after dull stretches of needless exposition, which feel counter-intuitive. David Morse is given a small role as a longtime friend to Cage, a role that is as needless as it is thankless. The character exists more or less to offer a softer side to the ending, the film then editing to a ride down an equally long bridge, although this one is leading straight into the heart of hell. Drive Angry ends just as stupidly as it began, and everything in-between merely elaborates on that ideal.
Gunning for a wide 3D release, Drive Angry was captured via the Red One, reproduced here on Blu-ray in an AVC encode from Summit. Results seem to replicate the wavering, nonchalantly inconsistent source, and that’s not even considering the simply abysmal special effects that do nothing to help. The mid-range is not kind to this one, appearing glazed over and smooth, another aspect that doesn’t match the grindhouse feel Drive Angry is reaching for. Amber Heard specifically has some rather gratuitous smoothing applied to her face, the effect all over the place in terms of consistency, and making little sense.
Facial detail proves to be otherwise striking, close-ups of Cage riding high on texture, all of his blood spattered, dirt-filled, and sliced up pores regularly visible. The benefit of digital only offers additional clarity and purity, while the rampant focal problems can quickly drop this one from perfection (in addition to other issues yet to come). Flesh tones keep to themselves, reproduced with a natural hue that remains in line with the rest of this desaturated, somewhat bland palette. Still, it’s a wide-reaching color selection, primaries still evident and the digital intermediate taking away none of the life or punch.
Black levels are striking, a nice change of pace from countless other recent digital-only presentations that lack the needed kick from the shadows. Drive Angry soars here, a late showdown between Cage and Fichtner at night on a bridge (what is it with this movie and bridges?) requiring help from the blacks. On the other side, contrast tends to appear sweltering, blooming through windows or bleaching entire roads. The effect on fine detail is minimal, faces and such still lit appropriately to ensure the texture remains a key part of the frame.
One final knock against Drive Angry is some vertical banding. There’s a hotel shoot-out around 31:00 that produces (very) visible lines straight through the image as Cage wipes out hordes of incoming targets. It’s a problem that will rear its ugly head again, the lines not an artifact of minimal light since the sequences are well lit and bright. If anything, that just makes the lines more obvious. A faint glaze of digital noise is readily forgivable in comparison.
In 3D, presentational issues revolve around contrast, which flickers and tends to unnaturally become pronounced. Faces seem visually awkward when hit with bright lights. Some dark photography is no friend to stereoscopic processes either.
That aside, Drive Angry is tremendous during its action. Slow motion bullets and thrown objects sit on screen long enough to appreciate the effect. Debris from shattered glass or explosions is wonderful, and cinematography appreciates a layered effect. A shot of David Finchter walking across a bridge, shot from half a mile back, exaggerates foreground punch to push background objects. It’s fun, if imperfect.
You will believe you have experienced a hydrogen truck spinning over your head with this oomph-loaded DTS-HD mix, and that’s a good thing since the visuals tell you it probably doesn’t exist. Drive Angry is a sensory assault, well, except for taste, touch and smell… so dual-sensory assault then.
Shotguns prove to be the weapon of choice, each blast a boomy, aggressive pop that obliterates the subwoofer and the foundation to the house it’s sitting on. You could call it overcooked, each bullpup blast standing up to the flurry of explosions in terms of sheer force and feel. Maybe there should be some discretion shown, but this is Drive Angry, and it’s doubtful “discretion” was used for anything.
Tracking is brilliant, the film (obviously) focused on fleeing, chasing, and flipping vehicles even when the laws of physics dictate otherwise. The stereos play their part, and the surrounds welcome these boisterous engines with their electricity-sucking innards. There’s a car mashing destruction-fest during a roadblock assault that exhibits all of these finer qualities at 1:13:38, screeching metal hitting each channel, tracked as well as those 3D bullets.
Director/co-writer Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer produce a commentary track for this gory action fest, continuing to explain why they cut a meager two scenes for pacing reasons in the deleted scenes section. For the record, they could have sliced a few more. Access: Drive Angry proves to be the show stealer though, a pop-up track with commentary, factoids, BtS footage, and more. It’s way more enjoyable than the standard commentary. Still, it would have been nice to access this material outside of the film itself.