Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Film Review with Robert Mann - Drive Angry 3D

Drive Angry 3D ****
Drive Angry 2D ***

Nicolas Cage, once perhaps one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, has lately developed a reputation for starring in some very bad movies. With films such as The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous and, most recently, the much delayed Season of the Witch stinking up his resume, so much so that many people easily overlook all the great films he starred in and all the great performances he has done in films like Adaptation., Matchstick Men, Kick-Ass and Bad Lieutenant (not to mention all the really fun blockbusters he has been in), it really isn’t hard to see why this is the case and, despite him not really having appeared in that many truly bad movies, in this critic’s opinion at least, it is understandable why people have come to expect nothing but utter rubbish from most of the films he stars in.

And Drive Angry 3D is likely to do little to change this opinion. That said, however, this film comes with one major difference over all those other bad movies starring Cage – here the filmmakers seem to have deliberately set out to make a bad movie, albeit one that can perhaps earn itself the honour of being so bad that it is good. You see, just like the 2007 Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse and last year’s Machete (also by Rodriguez), films that weren’t necessarily good movies per se but were very fun movies that did exactly what they set out to do – entertain their target audience – Drive Angry 3D is very much a throwback to the old exploitation style action movies. 

Simply put it isn’t meant to win awards or even wow critics, just thrill action fans. Based on the title you will already have guessed that Drive Angry 3D is also a film that, like so many others lately, is being released in 3D but the filmmakers, notably director Patrick Lussier who also helmed 2009’s My Bloody Valentine 3D which was one of the first of the new wave of 3D movies, have gone to great lengths to ensure that people are aware that this film is shot in 3D from start to finish rather than converted from 2D to 3D in post production as has been the case with far too many 3D movies lately. 

The words “Shot in 3D” beneath the title on some of the posters for the film should certainly allay any fears that anyone may have about the 3D sucking in this film – although this hasn’t exactly helped the film out at the box office where it has proven to be a flop both in America and here, opening in a dismal ninth place in the states and not even making it into the top ten here (although it’s failure to crack the top ten in the UK is actually more a show of strength for the overall box office, the film having grossed the highest amount ever earned outside of the top ten), something that isn’t all that uncommon for films such as this with both Grindhouse and Machete also doing very poorly commercially. 

Not only shot in 3D but embracing the old fashioned, throwing stuff out at the audience, philosophy on 3D, this film is unashamedly a gimmick 3D movie, not simply being a throwback to the old style exploitation actioner but also the kind of 3D movies you might have seen a long time ago, exploitation films seeming like an almost perfect fit for the extra dimension. But with the novelty of 3D beginning to wear off now and moviegoers starting to get a bit tired of gimmicky 3D does Drive Angry 3D offer enough to make it worth forking out the extra cost of a 3D ticket?

Milton (Nicolas Cage) is a man on a mission – he has broken out of hell to hunt down the vicious cult who murdered his daughter and kidnapped her baby and make them pay for their evil actions. Their sinister leader, Jonah King (Billy Burke), has a very dark purpose in mind for the baby and Milton is the only person who can save her. Along the way he encounters Piper (Amber Heard), a no-nonsense waitress with a very fast car and a will of iron, and she becomes an unwitting accomplice in his quest for revenge, finally discovering some sort of purpose in her life in the process. Hunting down the members of the cult one by one, they get closer and closer to its sadistic leader but the cult isn’t going to give up without a fight and its members are the least of their worries anyway because not only are they being pursued by the full forces of the state police troopers but also the devil’s top henchman The Accountant (William Fichtner) whose sole purpose is to bring Milton back to hell and who can be stopped by nothing but the “god killer” gun that Milton has managed to smuggle out of hell. 

Also enlisting the help of Milton’s old friend Webster (David Morse), they must act quickly as King is about to sacrifice the baby in an attempt to bring hell to earth. Enacting bloody vengeance all the way, Milton has only three days to complete his mission before all his lost and he is taken back to hell.

Drive Angry 3D is a film that is designed simply for the purposes of giving the audience a good night out. If what you want from a film is subtlety and meaning this is most definitely not the film for you. Everything here is extremely over the top from the really out there premise to the gratuitous sex and nudity that director Patrick Lussier manages to find room for and the no holds barred, unrestrained action sequences with a lot of blood and gore – this is definitely not a film for the squeamish viewer. 

The film also isn’t afraid to be cheesy as evidenced by the oh so subtle lettering on Piper’s licence plate – “DRV AGRY” – and a scene in which The Accountant crashes through a police roadblock in a tanker while That’s the Way I Like It plays on the radio as well as some of the choices on the soundtrack – including such subtle songs as Raise A Little Hell and F*** the Pain Away – which perfectly complement the over the top stylings of the overall film. With this being an 18 rated movie it obviously isn’t watered down in any way for teen moviegoers as is the case with so much action films these days, and with numerous gun fights, car chases and gun fights during car chases (also not forgetting a gun fight during a sex scene – although this isn’t the first film to do such a thing, Shoot ‘Em Up got there first), it delivers a more than ample level of thrills. 

With the action sequences having a very raw feel, the thrills are only helped by the fact that there is very little CGI here, the majority of what we see being completely real, aside from some of the 3D effects the effects used to create hell. And hell itself, which features in a couple of shots at the beginning and end of the film, is quite an impressive CG creation, its design seeming very familiar yet also having a touch of originality to it. The 3D here is mostly very good and often as cool as hell (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one). There is true depth to be the image with the 3D being both beyond and before the cinema screen, the inward depth going far beyond the cinema screen with entire stretches of road appearing to exist beyond it and lots of stuff coming towards the screen and sometimes even coming out. It really does look like everything is happening right before your eyes and, as bullets and gun shells fly out towards you, you are virtually guaranteed to flinch. 

There are also a few very good touches such as the way that, in one shot, a reflection of the moon is seen on the car’s windscreen. The 3D isn’t 100% perfect unfortunately as scenes set at night do occasionally prove slightly problematic with brightness being a bit of an issue in places due to the tint of the 3D glasses making the picture a tad too dark but overall this film, which has been designed entirely for 3D, really should be seen in 3D and I doubt it would be quite so kick-ass in plain 2D. Of course, while there’s a lot of depth to the image there is none to be found in the writing. In the screenplay by Todd Farmer and Lussier, there isn’t a lot of plot to speak of but you don’t go to see a film called Drive Angry for plot do you and what we do get is perfectly ample for the needs of the film. 

The dialogue is also often very bad but it is good bad dialogue which proves very entertaining, offering up plenty of cheesy one liners and contributing to a film that is, at times, very funny. On the acting front, this film obviously doesn’t deliver a masterclass in acting. Nonetheless, though, everyone does exactly what they need to do and proves appropriately watchable. Sporting yet another wild haircut (something that seems to be a trademark of his films nowadays), Nicolas Cage is on top form here, being thoroughly entertaining as per usual and doing “angry with attitude” well with a deep voice and brooding facial expressions. Amber Heard is quite the hottie, certainly so much so that you might expect her to be little more than eye candy but she is much more than that, being a hard as nails bad-ass who more than holds her own. 

Billy Burke, who it is hard to believe is same person who played the father in Twilight, plays his bad guy role with an intense level of sadism. And William Fichtner delivers a scene stealing turn with his extremely entertaining perfectly hammy (deliberately of course) portrayal of a character who is essentially a pantomime villain. So, that’s Drive Angry 3D – a gleefully enjoyable road/revenge movie that is devilishly good fun to watch. If you want to see something deep and meaningful this obviously isn’t the film for you but if you are just looking for a good time you will have a blast. Don’t think about it too much. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. It is a bad movie, yes, but it is a good bad movie. You won’t drive home angry afterwards, that’s for sure.

Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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