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Drive Angry

Summit Entertainment // R // May 31, 2011
List Price: $30.49 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 6, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"You're too late! You gotta know that, right? First full moon...she's dead, man! She's dead, and Hell's gonna walk the motherfuckin' Earth!"
"Hell already is walkin' the Earth. You tell him I'm comin'. Tell him I'm comin' to get her back."

I was at Crypticon in Seattle last weekend, and one of the panels I went to was named something like "The Best Era for Horror". The idea's that it was supposed to be a debate about which decade produced the most
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enduring genre classics or something like that, but the panelists kind of shrugged off the topic and instead discussed what made different eras so unique and distinctive, not really seeing the point in picking a favorite. When it came time for the Q&A section at the end, one guy in the crowd shouted "they need to stop all those fucking remakes!", I guess expecting that the three panelists on the stage would scream "yeah! Fuck remakes!" right back at him, and the crowd would pump their fists in unison, and then they'd raise him over their heads and crowdsurf him out of the room triumphantly or something. Nope. Instead, one of the panelists asked him a question: "Did you see Drive Angry?" In case the guy missed his point, he spelled it out for him. Drive Angry isn't a remake or a sequel. It's got geysers of blood, plenty of tits, a massive body count, a bunch of classic Detroit muscle tearing across the screen, and...why not?...Satanists. The movie's got a cacklingly dark and demented sense of humor, it's unflinchingly violent, it's unrepentently vulgar, and the pace never eases up on the throttle. Not that I'm in the 3D crowd anyway, but it's a live-action movie shot in hand-to-God 3D, and those don't really come around all that often. Drive Angry is everything the cult cinema crowd says they want in a genre flick, and they ignored it. So, the next time you see a poster for Saw MCMXVII or a remake of Terror Train, don't bitch about it if you're not gonna hold up your end of the deal.

Well, somewhere up in that rant, I mentioned titties, muscle cars, and Satanists, and...yeah, that's kind of the plot summary right there. A Southern-fried cult leader by the name of Jonah King (Billy Burke) -- think Jim Jones meets Jim Morrison -- has just butchered one pretty young twentysomething and is gonna sacrifice her baby daughter on the next full moon. Turns out that's the only family John Milton (Nicolas Cage) had left in the world, and he's not gonna let a little thing like eternal damnation get in the way of saving what's left of his kin. So, Milton busts out of Hell and, with busty blonde ball-buster Piper (Amber Heard) riding shotgun, he sets out to rescue his baby granddaughter before she's skewered by Satanists. Sounds like a plan, right? The only thing is that the underworld is kind of a tightly-run ship, and the only way to keep the books balanced is for The Accountant (William Fichtner) to march back up to this mortal coil and drag Milton back to Hell.

I'm not gonna bore you with some long, droning review. The short version...? Drive Angry is a fucking riot. It's the drive-in flick that Piranha 3D desperately wanted to be. I mean, don't get me wrong: Piranha had a bunch of howlingly demented gags, buckets of splatter, and a helluva lot of T&A, but everything in between was kind of a slog. Pretty much everyone in the flick grated on my nerves, and all the forgettable character development stuff was just padding things out until the fish could get to chomping. Drive Angry, though...? All killer, no filler. Something batshit-insane happens every few minutes, and it never misses the mark. Joe Bob
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Briggs would have an aneurysm tallying up these drive-in totals. You're lookin' at a 170 mph hit-and-run, a head bursting open from a sawed-off shotgun blast, skewering a redneck with a broken baseball bat, a nekkid, bloody Satanist chick packing heat, throat-slitting, Amber Heard in a catfight, machete-fu, car door-fu, truck-fu, hoe-fu, and Tom Atkins firing a Goddamn automatic rifle. A lot of genre fans want drinking, fucking, shooting, bleeding, and killing in their cult flicks, and Drive Angry finds a way to do all of that in one scene at the same time.

Drive Angry is one of the most unapologetically sleazy movies I've ever seen, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. I'm normally one of those dweeby guys who just sits quietly when he watches a movie, and I'm even worse when I'm reviewing since I'm taking notes and stuff, but Drive Angry is one "holy shit!" scene after another. While it'd be easy to shrug the movie off as dumb, sleazy fun, Drive Angry nails a lot of stuff that most cult flicks don't. For one, the pace never drags. The movie never gets caught up in its own mythology. How did Milton get out of Hell? How does that supernatural shotgun he's lugging around work? Who cares? Doesn't matter, and yakking about it would just slow everything down. It's perfectly cast too. No one does cold, cool, and quietly menacing like William Fichtner. Billy Burke nails the slithery charm of that Satanic cult leader. There's a reason Amber Heard is getting cast in pretty much every genre flick nowadays, and it's not just because she's drop dead gorgeous. Heard is completely convincing as this tough-as-nails shitkicker, latching onto what could be a one-dimensional Tough Girl archetype and actually making her come across as a person. She's a hell of an actress and one day -- one day! -- will get her due. And I mean, Nic Cage...the part of John Milton wasn't written with him in mind, but it might as well have been. I'm reviewing the 2D version of Drive Angry on Blu-ray here, but in case you do have one of those shiny new 3DTVs and wanna spring for the full 3D release, the movie was shot with real 3D cameras, axes and tits and stuff are constantly being flung at the screen, plus it's lit brightly enough that you can actually see it all too.

I know some people are gonna look at how many stars are lit up in the sidebar and cringe. I don't care. It's my review. We're talking about a movie where Nicolas Cage plows a Buick Riviera through the Gates of Hell, so I'm obviously reviewing it on a different scale than...I don't know, Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Drive Angry is exactly the movie it sets out to be. It's howlingly funny, gruesome, hyperviolent, and just shamelessly sleazy and exploitative at every possible turn. I loved the holy hell out of Drive Angry, and if you're still reading this review, the smart money says you will too. Highly Recommended.

There's not a whole lot I can write about the way Drive Angry looks on Blu-ray that this single image doesn't say faster and better:
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Seriously, pop that sucker open to fullsize. That's not some high-res photo yanked from the Drive Angry website; that's a screenshot snapped straight off this Blu-ray disc. Kinda goes without saying then that, at least at its best, Drive Angry looks incredible in high-def. Close-ups in particular are so razor-sharp and absurdly detailed that I feel as if I can count every single pore on Nic Cage and Amber Heard's faces. No edge enhancement. No clunky noise reduction. A high enough bitrate to stave off any artifacting or hiccups in the compression. The whole thing being a 100% digital production means no speckling or wear to get in the way either.

Quite a bit of Drive Angry looks perfect. Admittedly, there are a fair number of shots scattered throughout that have that immediately distinctive Red One look to 'em -- a very slight tinge of softness and low-ish contrast -- but I can't say I was ever disappointed. More dimly-lit shots sometimes get a little murky, but that too comes with the territory. The only out-and-out flaw I could spot is some stairstepping, such as the grill of the rig that The Accountant is barreling down the highway at one point. This sort of thing only caught my eye twice, though. Drive Angry may be a trashy grindhouse flick and all, but damned if it isn't pretty.

Drive Angry opens up the mattes slightly to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its AVC encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. It's also worth noting that you're reading a review of the standalone 2D release of Drive Angry. Another set piles on both a 3D version of the flick as well as the 2D disc reviewed here.

Drive Angry is lugging around a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As you'd probably expect with the snarl of all that Detroit muscle, chugging guitars, explosions, and gunplay, the lossless audio summons a hellish amount of bass...frequencies that dip so low that everything in the room starts to rattle. I was kind of expecting the surrounds to be more hyperaggressive than they are here, but the mix does come alive well enough whenever all Hell breaks loose: cars and motorcycles careening around from one end of the screen to the other, shrapnel scattering every which way, a car door flying off at a couple hundred miles an hour, shotgun blasts, shattered glass...that sorta thing. Chanting and laughter also fill the rear channels at times to keep things a little eerie and unnerving. Drive Angry's dialogue comes through really well too, although I'm not crazy about the opening narration coming from the front center and both surrounds simultaneously, and Billy Burke's monologue near the tail-end of the flick gets kinda crackly and edgy. Drive Angry's lossless audio isn't the spastic sensory overload I waltzed in expecting to hear, but this is still a pretty great track, and it's definitely one that's worth cranking up all the way.

The only other soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish as well.

  • Deleted Scenes (2 min.; HD): On their optional commentary for Drive Angry's reel of deleted scenes, director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer mention that there really wasn't much in the way of leftover stuff. Some existing scenes ran longer, yeah, but otherwise, pretty much everything made it in. That's why this reel clocks in at a lean 96 seconds. Deleted Scene Numero Uno has Piper packing her bags after walking in on her dude cheating, and there's another really quick scene to give Amber Heard's stunt double some facetime as well as an excuse to show off a Morgan they'd lined up.

  • Audio Commentary: Lussier and Farmer chime in with a commentary for the whole flick while they're at it. Lussier recorded this when his voice was shot, though, and that's not the most pleasant thing in the world to have to listen to for a hundred minutes and change. Anyway, some of the highlights here are nicking the title of the flick from Groundhog Day,
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    marveling at Nic Cage's acting here, pointing out the influence of Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, and noting that pretty much everyone in front of the camera walked away bruised and battered courtesy of Amber Heard. Sound design, music, casting, and lighting are touched on throughout this commentary as well. Definitely a solid track.

  • Access: Drive Angry: I'm normally not so much a fan of these running picture-in-picture-style features, but the one Summit assembled for Drive Angry is first-rate. Every gripe I've ever had about these things has been addressed here. First of all, there are three different components: "Cast/Crew Insight" piles on video interviews with folks working on both sides of the camera, "Did You Know?" lobs out trivia, and "Milton's Mayhem" keeps a running tally of all the violence that Milton unleashes throughout the flick, with every punch, headshot, and dismemberment assigned a point value. You can choose before the movie starts which of these you wanna see, defaulting to all three, and you can add or remove features while the movie plays. It's a much cleaner and more straightforward interface than Universal's U-Control, and I like the way the screen splits rather than overlaying the video interviews directly on top of the movie, yet only branching off like that when there's something to show. One of the best things about the presentation is that "Access" will let you skip directly to the next time one of these features kicks in, so you can skip past the dead air if you want, and it also includes a timer that counts down to the next instance. Whoever designed this "Access" feature, you're on my Christmas card list now. Seriously, I've reviewed a huge stack of Blu-ray discs with these sorts of running extras, and Drive Angry ranks right up at the very top of all of 'em.

    ...and I haven't even said anything about what's actually in this thing yet. The interviews cover a lot of ground that the audio commentary doesn't, including how the fuckin'-and-killin' havoc took shape, what The Accountant's coin represents, how much Todd Farmer and Piper have in common, not really rewriting after hammering out a first draft, and even some insightful stuff about the film's production design. The trivia track is heavy on facts about the muscle cars featured throughout the film, along with random nuggets like the average weight of a wall-unit air conditioner and more about Billy Burke's fingernails than you probably ever wanted to know. "Milton's Mayhem" is pretty fun too, especially the payoff at the end. So, yeah: watch it.

The Final Word
Plenty of T&A jiggling around, a stratospheric body count, buckets of splatter, a small army of Satanists, and a whole fleet of classic muscle cars: there's more grindhouse in Drive Angry than there is in...well, Grindhouse. This is a gloriously trashy flick and probably the most fun I've had watching a movie all year. If you call yourself a genre fan and you shrugged off Drive Angry when it was making the rounds in theaters, here's your chance to get it right. Highly Recommended.

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