Are you in the market for some insane trash? Then allow me to recommend “Drive Angry,” which is insane trash of the highest order. More importantly, it’s insane trash that knows how ludicrous and disposable it is — pulpy, gleeful madness that tells its bizarre story with the efficiency and enthusiasm of a second-tier graphic novel.
Appropriately, it stars professional nutcase Nicolas Cage, who approaches this role the way he approaches every role, i.e., as if it were an explosive device that needs to be leapt upon and smothered. He plays John Milton (not the one who wrote “Paradise Lost,” but congrats on noticing the English 101 symbolism!), a disheveled and intense loner who’s passing through the American Southwest on his way to rescue somebody from some bad people. The first thing we see him do is shoot the crap out of some dudes; the next thing we see him do is order coffee in a roadside diner and then make out with the waitress. This man means business.
Milton is soon traveling with Piper (Amber Heard), a girl from a dusty Colorado town who needs to get away from her directionless life. Gradually we learn what Milton is after, which is straightforward enough but which I won’t spoil for you. In basic terms, he seeks to avenge one person’s death and prevent another’s. His target: a charismatic cult leader named Jonah King (Billy Burke).
There is also a man who calls himself the Accountant (William Fichtner) who is pursuing Milton, Jonah King, or perhaps both. The Accountant is readily identifiable because he is the only person in the movie wearing a suit and tie. His manner is prickly, his speech clipped, his patience thin. It’s apparent early on that there is something supernatural about him, and probably not the good kind of supernatural, either.
“Drive Angry” has significant otherworldly elements to it, but it’s more interested in earthly pleasures: naked ladies, fast cars, shotgun blasts to the limbs, and so forth. To observe that the film contains gratuitous violence and nudity would be to overlook that it has gratuitous everything else, too. From its devil-worshipers to its machete-wielding assassins, to the fact that every character swears like a sailor and talks like a badass, everything about the film is excessive.
For me, a lot of movies matching that description wind up being garish and unpleasant, often mean-spirited. The entire Rob Zombie canon comes (unfortunately) to mind, for example. But “Drive Angry” is cheerful about its gonzo, over-the-top approach, and limits most of its violent injuries to characters who deserve it. It was directed by Patrick Lussier and written by him and Todd Farmer; the two also worked together on 2009’s “My Bloody Valentine,” another genre confection that was smarter than you’d expect. “Drive Angry” has some cool, funny dialogue, and a bounty of magnetic characters, including the good-old-boy Oklahoma sheriff (played by schlock-horror veteran Tom Atkins), the malevolent cult leader, the nympho bar waitress (Charlotte Ross), and Piper’s abusive boyfriend (co-writer Todd Farmer). Milton is vintage Cage lunacy, and the ought-to-be-more-famous Amber Heard holds her own as Piper.
But the MVP? William Fichtner as the Accountant. The familiar actor has rarely been given this much freedom to have fun with a character, and he revels in it. The Accountant has that bounty-hunter, Hugo-Weaving-in-“The Matrix” swagger, mixed with the Tommy Lee Jones tenacity, mixed with the Joe Pesci polite-right-now-but-could-snap-at-any-moment unpredictability, mixed with the Christopher Walken peculiar diction and general oddness. (There’s a bit of the FBI agent Fichtner played in “Prison Break” as well.) It’s not uncommon in a film like this for the antagonist to be the most memorable, quotable character, and now the Accountant — thanks to Fichtner — joins that list.
The movie falls into a few brief ruts of particularly mindless action, but for the most part it’s light on its feet and intent on moving forward. Like the movies it emulates — grindhouse, Roger Corman, the recent “Crank” sub-genre — it doesn’t waste a lot of time. Well, except for the 104 minutes you spend watching it, technically. But you weren’t going to use that time for anything important anyway, were you? Sometimes insane trash is what you need.
B+ (1 hr., 44 min.; )