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Monday, March 18,2013

Rrrrrrr! Grrrrrr!

Head out to see Nicolas Cage's 'Drive Angry' and you're on the road to ruin

by James Sanford

Nicolas Cage’s slow career suicide continues with “Drive Angry,” in which he revisits his less-than-classic “Ghost Rider,” reflects back on the glory days of “Gone in 60 Seconds” and puts one more coat of tarnish on that best actor Oscar he won for “Leaving Las Vegas” 15 long years ago.

Cage may be bent on following in the footsteps of another Academy Award recipient, Michael Caine, who used to choose roles about as carefully as Charlie Sheen picks his playmates: Months after collecting his first best supporting actor Oscar for director Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Caine was gracing “Jaws: The Revenge.” Even that notorious dud might seem like prize pickings to Cage these days. Watching him plod through “Drive Angry,” wearing a dime-store dishwater-blond wig that might double as a mophead, you have to strain to remember this is the same guy who once starred in “Moonstruck,” “Wild at Heart,” “Raising Arizona” and “Adaptation” — much less the maniac who practically vaulted off the screen and assaulted the audience in last year’s sensationally strange “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans.”

Far from being angry or even excitingly agitated, Cage’s John Milton is almost relentlessly lethargic, offering up every lousy line of dialogue in a mumbled monotone that suggests he spiked his coffee with Sominex and liquid Valium. He mewls “I’ll blow all your heads off” the same way he asks, “You want me to roll up the window?”

Then again, Cage is under the direction of Patrick Lussier, whose most notable credits include “Dracula 2000” and the 3D remake of “My Bloody Valentine.” Lussier’s attitude is that actors only get in the way of car crashes, explosions and — since this, too, is 3D — the multiple gun barrels and badly animated bullets he thrusts out of the screen, as if he was cooking up a porn film for the National Rifle Association.

Anything close to an actual performance in “Angry” is merely an optical illusion. Along for the bumpy ride is Piper, a former waitress who serves up plenty of abrasive attitude — well, she would, were she not played by the low-wattage Amber Heard, who apparently studied at the Jessica Simpson Academy of Drama. While Heard’s laughable Southern accent roams from region to region, her emotional range never leaves junior high.

Oddly, it’s William Fichtner who gives the closest thing to a Cage-y characterization, and even that’s slicked up with a generous amount of ersatz Christopher Walken. As the blandly menacing dude (known as The Accountant) who chases Milton through Colorado, Oklahoma and Louisiana, Fichtner does as much twitching, purring and snickering as possible in a futile attempt to put a little flavor into a thoroughly tasteless trough of junk food.

“Drive Angry” is one more perpetrator of The Curse of Quentin, in which hapless filmmakers mistakenly believe there’s something intrinsically fascinating about watching scuzzy white-trash types with filthy mouths shoot, stab and slug each other. “Angry” steals several pages from Tarantino’s screenplays for “True Romance” and “Pulp Fiction” only to use them as toilet paper; Lussier, like so many self-styled hipper-than-thou directors, is determined to make an awful, excessive, ridiculous film, just so he and his oh-so-post-post-ironic pals can laugh at the amount of carnage, profanity and gratuitous nudity that can be squeezed into 104 minutes. All they’ve managed to prove, however, is how easily unbridled, carelessly conceived camp can deteriorate into another four-letter word that stars with a “c” and ends with a “p.”

Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer’s idea of cleverness and innovation is having a character almost apologetically don dark sunglasses to partially conceal his recently shot-out eye, or allowing Milton to polish off a dozen thugs while simultaneously chewing on a cigar, swigging Jack Daniels and getting busy with a naked, screeching bimbo.

If Milton sounds superhuman, you’re on the right track. He has managed to break out of his home in Hades to chase down a satanic sect led by Jonah King (Billy Burke, better known as Bella’s dad in the “Twilight” movies). Milton isn’t peeved simply because King’s sculpted sideburns and silk shirts make him almost a dead ringer for Neil Diamond in his “Hot August Night” days; it seems King thoughtlessly murdered Milton’s daughter and now plans to hold a splashy sacrificial rite beneath the full moon, in which Milton’s infant grandson will be filleted for the amusement of the King cult.

There’s barely a hint of urgency in Milton’s mission, though. Even when the baby girl has a knife at her throat, Cage remains utterly detached and deadpan. The movie is called “Drive Angry” only because, idiotic as that title is, it's marginally snappier than the more accurate “Gramps Takes a Vacation From Hell.”

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