Drive Angry (R) ★★½

Review Date: February 25th, 2011

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. rated this film 2 1/2 stars.