There are times when you need to forget the day and the constant need to make sense of everything around you and you just want to slip away from reality and let the completely absurd take over. While some may dismiss this format as silly or ridiculous it is an enduring type of storytelling with its historic roots extending back to the ancient Greeks. True, their use of the absurd typically fell to a means to safely comment of the current political state the underlying escape from the restrictions of reality certainly have a place in today’s culture. Not everything has to make sense or hold together in a logical fashion. Sometimes escapism needs to be doled out in heaping portions just for the fun of it. A recent example is the latest flick from Nicolas Cage; ‘Driving Angry’. Once again he plays a supernatural creature and the story includes a bounty hunter from Hell but if you expect a greater degree of stability to the plot or any aspect to make more than a modicum of rational sense; look elsewhere/ however if you just want a beer and pizza flick to provide the basis of some fun times with friends this movie might provide exactly what you are looking for. Come to think about it while not advocating inebriation this flick may require a couple of beers or the innate ability to isolate and dial down the portions of your higher consciousness that demands logic and order. In many respects this movie can fit this criterion nicely. One major factor in favor of it working, at least within the above mentioned context, is the presence of Me. Cage. He has been playing a role similar to the one he under takes here so frequently that he is presently a casting director’s first choice for undead outlaw or supernatural person of interest. This is precisely the kind of flick my friends and I would take the subway into Manhattan’s grind house theater district to see. It makes about as much in the way of common sense as a roller coaster but serves much the same purpose; a brief sojourn from the mundane real world. In this capacity the filmmaker seems honest with his audience; the flick promises action, fast cars, a beautiful young woman and Nick Cage acting crazy. This is well delivered here and reminiscent of those exploitation flicks from so long ago.
In the flick, ‘Ghost Rider’ Cage played a man condemned to be Hell’s bounty hunter. In ‘Drive Angry’ he takes on the opposite side of the equations as the ironically named John Milton, a criminal who has escaped from Hell. I guess the nun’s didn’t have their concept about hell validated; it obviously isn’t an inescapable place of unyielding torment if there is such an issue with escapees. Even Riker’s Island in New York City has a better retention rate. It doesn’t seem to be a place of eternal torment if enough people can manage to escape to warrant the Devil requiring a full time bounty hunter. The boundary to the nether region appears to be as permeable as the Southwestern American border. Milton didn’t escape just to find more pleasant surroundings he had a specific purpose in mind; track down and kill Jonah King (Billy Burke). It seems that King is the leader of a cult and managed to indoctrinate Milton’s daughter. As if that wasn’t sufficiently heinous to compel Milton ‘topside’ King also murdered his son-in-law and kidnapped his granddaughter to be the guest of honor at a satanic human sacrifice. Old Hob sends one of his minions, The Accountant (William Fichtner), to track Milton down and drag him back before he can spoil the entire devil’s fun that includes the satanically popular infanticide sacrifice. In a small town in Louisiana Milton encounters a waitress, Piper (Amber Heard), who is attempting to pressure her boyfriend Frank (Todd Farmer) into marriage by withholding sexual activity. Milton is in need of a rider so he sabotages Piper’s car in order to get her to give him a lift. Okay, I noticed the plot is getting overly obtuse but consider that inherent to this implementation of the grind house action flick. Piper catches Frank with another woman, waits in another room while Milton is getting it on and generally goes on the run with him when the dreaded Accountant shows up. Webster (David Morse) help eventually comes in the form of as friend continently named Webster (David Morse) which permits the chase to continue. For those that skipped literature class in high school Milton wrote ‘The Devine Comedy’ outlining the structure of hell while Webster is attributed to out-smarting the devil preventing him from claiming a soul. The circle of hell motif is revisited just before the closing credits giving this movie more of a classic literature connection than you would have expected.
The film is surprisingly effective in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Cage is at the point in his career where he can afford to select roles that are personally interesting to him and as a well-known avid devotee of comic books this flick is obviously right up his alley. A movie of this ilk is certainly bound to appeal to those of us how experienced the height of the grind house era. It contains every requisite plot device, meme and character archetype that defined that specific manner of filmmaking. There is the tough loner who is always on the lookout for a man to beat, shoot or kill and a beautiful woman to bed. His preferred means of transportation is a classic muscle car and his side kick is a gorgeous young woman who smokes, drinks and actively enjoys sex. Considering the movie in this frame of reference it is not only is it possible to overlook the overlook the predicable special effects but they reinforce the entire grind house nostalgia motif. If you still have doubts that this homage is coincidental and not the result of directorial stylistic design wait until you witness the pre-game warmup for the baby killing. It is a biker orgy consisting of a number of topless women and several cases of Jack Daniels.
The film’s initial theatrical release was in 3D and although the utilization of the illusion of depth is not as refined as the contemporary standard it also works in a grind house influenced manner. Some of those old flicks employed Anaglyph 3D, the technology that requires the cheap cardboard glasses with two color cellophane lenses. The current Real 3D polarization technology is far in advance but the deployment is overly reliant on gimmick shots that fling objects through the plane of the screen seemingly directly at you. The director, Patrick Lussier, not only has extensive experience in horror, specifically a new millennium Dracula trilogy but his film prior to this one, ‘My Bloody Valentine’, was also shot in 3D achieving a similar retro feel. The movie is flawed, I surmise at least in part by design, but it still works as a guilty pleasure.