Things I Learned from Movie X
Drive Angry
By Edwin Davies
July 18, 2011

He insists on being photographed from his good side.  *This is* his good side.

There has been a trend in recent years of studios investing considerable amounts of money on films that are throwbacks to a kind of cheap, sleazy cinema that doesn't really exist anymore outside of the direct-to-DVD market. This arguably started with the Tarantino-Rodriguez fiasco that was Grindhouse, an $80 million homage that failed to find an audience other than Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. The thinking seems to be that by producing films that are ridiculously odd and almost willfully non-commercial will turn them into instant cult classics, and therefore successes, despite the fact that one of the essential criteria for a cult classic is that the film needs to have been something of a failure in the first place. (See: Repo Man, Blade Runner and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.)

The latest entry in this quasi-sub-genre is Drive Angry, which tells the totally marketable, commercially viable and in no way insane story of a man named John Milton, (Really? I mean...really? Why not go for another long dead author who wrote about Hell and the Devil? Goethe, Dante and Marlowe are awesome names for characters in dumb movies, why not give them a shot?) played by Nicholas Cage, who escapes from Hell in order to rescue his baby grandaughter, who has been kidnapped by a group of Satanists who plan to sacrifice her in order to bring Hell to Earth. Along the way, Milton teams up with an ass-kicking waitress (Amber Heard) and the two tear their way across the South, killing people like murder's going out of style. Drive Angry may be trash, but as I'm sure a lot of British tabloid journalists could tell you, there's lots to be learned from sifting through trash, for example...

William Fichtner needs to be in everything, and he needs to be in it now

Despite a great turn in Heat, and a memorable appearance in the stunning bank robbery that opens The Dark Knight, as well as a host of other appearances in film and television, William Fichtner has never really made the transition from character actor to star. There's no single reason why, but it probably has something to do with the fact that he looks like a young version of Christopher Walken, if Walken had ever had his skin removed and then stretched out over a skeleton that is just a little *too* small for him. Also, the middle part of his surname is such a veritable car crash of consonants that even the most dogged fan would be loathe to spell it without constantly checking IMDB, so putting his name above the title would be like the Ninth Circle of Hell to poster artists.

In Drive Angry, Fichtner demonstrates just how unfeasibly awesome he is by managing to be the most crazy and unhinged character in a film that stars Nic Cage. I thought that would only ever happen if someone made a documentary about Nic Cage meeting Charles Manson, and even then it seems like it would be a draw. Rather than go big with the role, Fichtner goes entirely in the opposite direction by playing his character - The Accountant, a demonic bounty hunter sent to drag Milton back to Hell - as someone who is quietly interested in everything around him, to an almost disturbing degree. Unlike most supernatural antagonists, he doesn't really seem to know what is going on, so he spends most of the film asking people overly polite questions, marvelling at the responses people give him, and then either casually telling them when they are going to die, or throwing part of a broken baseball bat through their head. You don't think anyone can throw a baseball bat through someone's head in a casual manner? Then you don't know William Fichtner.

Never disrobe before a gunfight

In probably the weirdest scene in a film whose base level of normality is pretty askew to begin with, Milton picks up a woman in a bar, takes her back to his hotel room, and starts having sex with her, despite not taking his clothes off. When she questions his sartorial choices, Milton replies that he never disrobes before a gunfight, at which point dozens of large, burly men with large, burly guns start bursting into the room, only to be mowed down by Milton's undead-eyed shooting. There are a couple of things that can be taken away from this scene - not least of all that it is apparently possible to roll, jump and acrobatically twirl around a room, whilst shooting two guns, and still have somewhat satisfying sex (maybe it's just me, but I would find all of that a tad distracting) - but the most important thing is the almost Zen philosophy of Milton's statement. Sure, his decision not to disrobe is vindicated by the fact that a gunfight does, in fact, break out, but how was he to know that one would? As far as he was aware, a gunfight might not have been a pressing concern, but merely something that could happen in the future. In that context, his seemingly throwaway line is a way of saying that we should always be prepared for the worst eventuality, be it a gunfight, losing your job, or biting into a hot dog and getting ketchup all down your T-shirt. Rarely has a film packed so much profundity into a single line preceding a gunfight-sex scene.

Always respect the classics

Despite being shot in 3D, thereby making it almost aggressively modern, Drive Angry is, at its heart, a classic tale, and even illustrates one of the elemental truisms of the great Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov. Chekhov once said of story structure that "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." It's an idea that is pretty much essential to any piece of taut, efficient storytelling, and Drive Angry respects this concept almost to a fault. But rather than rely on something as conventional as a gun, the film has its own spin on the notion, one that could best be summed up as, "If you say in the first act that you want to drink beer from the skull of the man who murdered your daughter and kidnapped your grandaughter in the hopes of sacrificing her to open up a gate to hell, in the second or third act beer best be fucking drunk from a skull."