Ever wanted to see Bella’s dad (Billy Burke) in Twilight (2008) lead a satanic cult, kill a bunch of people, and coerce a young mother into giving him fellatio only to get his penis bitten off? If so, then Drive Angry Shot in 3D was tailor-made for you. Mind you, I don’t mention these points because they happen in the movie, although they do (the more tasteless elements are mercifully implied), but because it takes a specific mindset to appreciate this cheerful level of trash on the big screen.
For years now, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have tried to emulate the manic charm of early exploitation cinema, and, contrary to claims from supercilious cinephiles who’ve never watched the stuff, they’ve largely failed: Planet Terror (2007) was too extravagant, Death Proof (2007) too ponderous, and Machete (2010) too self-aware. This is not to say these tributes don’t entertain, but their excesses stem from irony, whereas true B pictures deal in reckless abandon.
Drive Angry Shot in 3D gets that. It’s directed by Patrick Lussier, who started his film career as Wes Craven’s editor and cut his teeth as a director with straight-to-video fair like The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000) and Dracula II: Ascension (2003). The man knows his B cinema (and apparently his ascending cinema). He understands that at the heart of every “best worst” movie lies a fantasy too daring for big Hollywood studios, mainstream audiences, good taste, or common sense.
This, I suppose, leads us to the story about a tough-as-nails road warrior named Milton (Nicolas Cage) returning from the dead to settle a score. The exact nature of his quest is slowly revealed between lurid shots of bones breaking, limbs exploding, and naked women gyrating, but it remains the focus of the picture. Take, for example, the riddle surrounding Piper (Amber Heard), a spirited waitress whom Milton tricks into riding shotgun. Saved for the very end, its answer proves kind of sweet in a complete nonsense sort of way, especially among classic tropes like bloodthirsty cops, pistol-toting warlocks, and super-powered marshals from hell.
To disclose any more of the plot would earn this review an irksome spoiler tag. Suffice it to say Drive Angry Shot in 3D displays more creativity than the title and trailers lead on. Yes, I just used the word “creativity” in reference to a film that trades in recycled splatter shots and tough guy clichés. In fact, if not for their offhand supernatural context, I might have found the overextended highway chases terribly dull and repetitive. Still, there’s something endearingly tongue-in-cheek about a bad guy who never runs out of henchmen, shotguns that never run out of ammo, and vintage cars that never run out of excuses to flip over.
The joke works better here than in the Grindhouse features because Lussier keeps a straight face through all the lunacy, as do his actors, who make sure to never wink at the camera. Consider Billy Burke’s unapologetic glee as the villainous Jonah King or Amber Heard’s take on Piper, the way she hints at a long-time scrapper despite not quite filling her daisy dukes. Nicolas Cage also proves inspired casting. Say what you will about his career choices (“Do I get super-powers? Then I’ll take it!”); the man is a whirlwind on screen.
However, the most memorable performance belongs to William Fichtner who steals every scene he’s in as the Accountant, the devil’s good-natured agent assigned to retrieve Milton. Ever since Grace under Fire, I’ve thought Fichtner underrated, and it’s a pleasure to see him strut his stuff with a role that banks on his dry wit and oddball charm. As the stakes increase, so do his outlandish antics, yet the actor remains as deadpan as ever, evoking the weary aloofness of a working stiff for whom every aspect of the job has become routine.
That’s the target demographic by the way. Like the sixties and seventies exploitation flicks to which it pays homage, Drive Angry Shot in 3D hides in its inane flights of fancy a humble heart and sincere affection for its uncomplicated audience. You see, for all their cult appeal, movies of this kind don’t target privileged seventh art connoisseurs but earnest filmgoers who find comfort in the notion that even those of us stuck in hell deserve a bit of escape every now and then.
Note: The 3D effects in Drive Angry Shot in 3D add little to the experience, so you may be wondering why I keep including “Shot in 3D” in the title. It’s just that kind of movie, you know?