“Drive Angry 3D” (2011)

Nicolas Cage as Milton in Drive Angry

★★★½☆

There have been plenty of comparisons between this movie and “Grind House”, and deservedly so. Both films feature classic American muscle cars, hot babes, and over-the-top violence. But where “Grind House” went for a very 60’s feeling production value – more of an homage – “Drive Angry” is much more contemporary in approach.

The basic storyline is that Nicolas Cage has come back from the dead to save his infant daughter from the leader of a Satanic cult. He’s being pursued by an agent of Hades called “The Accountant” and along the way he is accompanied by a hot babe, named “Piper.” Pretty familiar story.

Surprisingly, what makes this movie work isn’t Cage or the cars. Not that the cars aren’t awesome. You don’t get to see or hear a ’69 Charger at full throat these days. In fact, there is a respect for the cars that runs through the movie. Early on, The Accountant is interrogating Piper’s boyfriend; the boyfriend tells him that Piper took off in his car. When asked what kind of car, the now-ex-boyfriend replies that it’s a Charger. The Accountant asks if it’s the 440 or the Hemi. When the boyfriend replies it’s only the 440, The Accountant gives this great “what a douche bag” kind of shrug. If you’re a car guy, you get it.

Anyway, Amber Heard as “Piper” is awesome. She kicks major ass and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Usually the sidekick chick is always needing to be rescued, but Piper takes pretty good care of herself and delivers her lines with authority. She looks great and is fun to watch in what would normally be a male-dominated action flick.

Billy Burke is great as the evile cult leader, Jonah King … up to a point. That point is that he’s mean and rotten enough, but you really don’t get the whole devil worship vibe off him. That is, you don’t really get the feeling he’s tapping into some higher (or lower) power – or that he really believes in it at the gut level.

The guy who’s most fun to watch in this movie is William Fichtner as “The Accountant.” The character is completely quirky. Violent, funny, yet intelligent. It would have been easy to make this character totally bad-ass and cold, he is the Grim Reaper of sorts after all, but the humor he lends really makes the picture.

As for Cage, I don’t know. It feels like he’s going through the motions. He’s not bad, but he’s not edgy. I did get a kick out of his character’s name being “John Milton” – the same name as the 17th century English poet who wrote “Paradise Lost” – an epic poem about the Fall of Man and Satan. That can’t be a coincidence in a movie about a cult trying to bring Satan to earth.

There are at least half a dozen real funny asides in the movie. Little touches of humor that really make the thing move along and not get too heavy. It’s well balanced – not too campy, not too violent. The 3D is pretty good, but it really didn’t add anything to the film. I still don’t see what the big deal about 3D movies is.

I gave it 3.5 stars mainly because I felt Cage could have been better and the cars could have been a little more in-focus as characters. It’s a fun movie to watch, though – worth checking out as a matinee.