Drive Angry directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) is an action thriller with a resolutely trashy grindhouse ethos. This weekend should you require an antidote to the Academy Awards’ hauteur pretentiousness and altogether unreasonable commitment to quality this lowbrow orgy of carnage nudity and roaring muscle cars will surely do the trick. Then again so will a few episodes of Jersey Shore. But that show unlike Drive Angry isn’t available in eye-bludgeoning 3D. Yet.
The film stars Nicolas Cage as John Milton a cigar-chomping Jack Daniels-swilling ex-con who has escaped from hell (literally) to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by an apocalyptic cult. Fear not B-movie aficionados: The character’s name a winking nod to the author of Paradise Lost is about the only discernibly literary or philosophical element to be found in Drive Angry which otherwise keeps its aim squarely below the waist. Knowledge of Milton’s 17th-century epic poem or of literature in general is not required for the enjoyment of this film. In fact it might hinder it.
Some films inadvertently earn the “so-bad-it’s-good” label; Drive Angry aspires to it. The plot is spotty and nonsensical crafted mainly to connect the dots between bloody spurts of stylized mayhem. Milton drifts through various small southern towns populated entirely with louts and sluts leaving behind a trail of bodyparts as he rushes to confront the cult leader (Billy Burke) who abducted his granddaughter and who intends to offer her up to the Dark Lord at the next full moon.
Along the way he picks up a sidekick Piper (Amber Heard) a pugilistic potty-mouth in daisy dukes included in the film for the very express purpose of giving us something pretty to look at betwixt the gory shootouts and car chases – a considerate gesture on the part of the filmmakers truth be told. She is however only tangentially related to the plot. Which would be a problem if plot were a priority.
Drive Angry’s holy triumvirate of sex violence and muscle cars merges into one unified splatter-drenched whole during the film’s climax in which Milton launches his ’69 Dodge Charger into the center of an orgiastic cult gathering picking off with a shotgun the few revelers he can’t run over before finally following through on his pledge to drink a bottle of beer from the skull of his dead nemesis. This is actually one of the film's more endearing moments.
Cage for his part has a few moments of inspired batshitry my favorite being a scene in which he enjoys a bizarre sexually charged exchange with a randy waitress before pulling her in for a sloppy French kiss but for the most part his eccentricity is disappointingly muted. He’s more of a grim gunslinger out of the Sergio Leone mold in Drive Angry shooting much and saying little which doesn’t leave much room for those manic outbursts I’ve come to regard with such genuine affection.
Slyly stealing the show from Cage in Drive Angry is the man who pursues him The Accountant played by esteemed character actor William Fichtner. A sort of bounty hunter sent by the devil to bring Milton back to hell The Accountant moves with a kind of creepy grace his utter disregard for conventions of personal space throwing every character he encounters off-balance. Fichtner’s wry observations are the comedic highlight of a movie that tries hard to ape the dark offbeat humor of Tarantino's Death Proof but falls woefully short in the end.
Anyone who thought Disturbia could be the name of a family bonding movie could get a false sense of security in the opening scene. Kale (Shia LaBeouf) has a sweet fishing trip with his supportive dad but an automobile accident on the way home costs Dad his life and turns Kale into a brooding moping mess. A fight with his teacher lands him under house arrest for the summer with nothing to do but watch the neighbors from his window. A pretty new girl (Sarah Roemer) provides good scenery but across the street something more disturbing is going on. Neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) seems to have a lot in common with a serial killer recently on the news but the ankle bracelet limits Kale's investigation. The ankle bracelet creates a false illusion of mobility but crossing the barrier only makes things harder. This may all sound familiar but Disturbia gives a fresh take on voyeurism. You might not expect a thriller like Disturbia to showcase great performances but it is a great vehicle for Shia LaBeouf to show his talent. He plays every moment against the standard conventions. His sullen kid is totally sympathetic. He's not just looking for attention but really trying to cope with a great loss. You actually want him to hit the asshole teacher for presuming to know what's up. Then while home his love struck voyeur is not just some horny kid. He seems moved by the vision not just the body. Then lastly as an action hero LaBeouf is truly desperate not just trying to be a badass. The others fill more traditional roles. Morse does his now familiar bad guy thing and is far more interesting as the friendly neighbor than when he's just going bonkers. Aaron Yoo as Kale’s goofy sidekick tries too hard to be wacky and clueless. Roemer on the other hand is a self-assured sexpot though a little too wise to her seductive wiles. Carrie-Anne Moss does the tough-love mom thing well. In fact she really hasn't repeated herself in her whole career. But ultimately it’s LaBeouf's show. With the whole movie seen through his perspective he creates a well-rounded guide through the sometimes far-fetched adventure. Director DJ Caruso (Two for the Money) knows all the classic tricks of suspense to keep audiences jumping and comes up with a few new ones of his own. The pacing is breakneck. To begin with the auto accident is staged beautifully. It is a realistic portrayal of the dangers caused by speed demon SUVs yet never gratuitous in communicating the horrific tragedy. Having the villain show up under innocuous pretenses also keeps the audience on their toes. But the house arrest hook is the best device of all. It can be a barrier as Kale stretches the limits of his mobility. Or it can be the edge of safety as Kale struggles to signal for help. Of course modern technology to spy on the neighbors is also employed to full effect. The film's tight storytelling packs it all into 95 minutes with no down time. Fans of this genre won't be disappointed
Jiminy Glick is a local TV news personality in Butte Montana. You know the type--an entertainment reporter who mostly interviews homegrown talent but occasionally jets to Hollywood to hobnob with the big wigs. Glick doesn't quite make it that far. His assignment is the Toronto Film Festival and he makes the trip with his wife Dixie (played with ferocious white trash bravery by an unrecognizable Jan Hooks) and his oddly silent twin boys Matthew and Modine (named after their father's favorite actor). Although Glick is a no-name a fact he's completely oblivious to his fortunes change when after falling asleep during a screening he unwittingly gives the atrocious movie a glowing review. Through a chain of events he becomes the hottest thing as stars line up to grant him interviews. Through an even more bizarre chain of events Glick gets caught up in a murder mystery as well after waking up in bed with an interview subject who has been stabbed. Before he knows it he is embroiled with the starlet Miranda Coolidge (Elizabeth Perkins) her daughter Natalie (Linda Cardellini) and her boorish Eurotrash husband Andre (John Michael Higgins).
Glick despite being a glutton is an acquired taste. He almost defies description--one part clueless star struck Hollywood wanna-be one part jaded interviewer. Short introduced Glick on his short-lived daily talk show before he was spun off in into his own series on Comedy Central. But the movie deftly shifts Glick's origins to the Midwest to make him more of a fish out of water. Stuck in the insular dated Hollywood of Rona Barrett and Tom Snyder Glick will often interrupt his guests if not correcting them on the details of their own lives if they don't gibe with his notes. Case in point he confidently asserts that Steve Martin is Jewish as a lead-in to a line of questions. And thankfully Short has called upon his friends in the improv and sketch comedy world to fill out Jiminy Glick's cast of characters who serve him well. John Michael Higgins most notable for his contributions to Christopher Guests' improv epics Best in Show and A Mighty Wind is a standout. Perkins and Cardellini (Velma of Scooby-Doo fame) are an appropriately brittle Hollywood mother and daughter. And not enough can be said of Hooks' turn as the repulsive Dixie a spot-on embodiment of confused Midwest entitlement. Rounding out the cast is DeRay Davis as Mario "Fa Real" Green a rapper turned movie actor and Corey Pearson as a stuck-up rising star who grants Jiminy that first interview.
Short and his writers must have feared that Glick would run out of things to do if he wasn't embroiled in a good old-fashioned murder mystery. It's the kind of noir that seems to lend itself to Hollywood perhaps loosely inspired by the likes of Sunset Boulevard but here the creaky storyline only grinds things to a halt. Maybe it just doesn't feel right since the story takes place in Canada and besides Glick is no sleuth. The plot seems like all boring business and you can't wait to get back to Glick doing what he does best. As far at the direction goes it can either be part of the fun with quick cuts hilarious non-sequitors and great timing--or it can get out of the way to let the comedian work his magic. For the most part the director Vadim Jean uses the latter technique. He keeps it all low-key and lets Short do his thing. That said--and maybe it's the drab overcast Toronto setting--the movie looks made for television.