- Trying so hard to be a hilariously over-the-top cult movie that it feels strained, self-conscious, and self-important, especially for a movie about an undead Nicolas Cage breaking out of Hell to save his infant granddaughter from being sacrificed by Satanists
- Letting Cage dial down his performance to grimly inert levels instead of pushing him to be the hilariously wackadoo centerpiece that might have made the film fun-bad instead of just bad
- Ripping off the silly-ass “man fucks a woman while simultaneously shooting a room full of attackers” sequence from Shoot ’Em Up
- Wasting an excellent William Fichtner performance
Defender: Director Patrick Lussier and his co-writer, Todd Farmer
Tone of commentary: Egalitarian. Lussier and Farmer spend the commentary name-checking everyone who contributed to each scene, from the lines or actions that the actors tweaked to all the tech staff: It’s no huge surprise that love interest Amber Heard was the one who suggested she should be getting her toenails painted by a naked man in one shot, or that it was Nicolas Cage’s idea that he should be fully clothed during his sex scene. But in addition to the cast contributions, Lussier and Farmer go out of their way to identify and praise, for instance, the second-unit director who fished a dead snake out of a ditch and put it in the shot. And the producer who suggested Lussier should cut a laugh at the end of another shot. And the makeup guy who handled a gory effect. And the cinematographer who designed a shot, and the stuntman who pulled off a car jump without wiping out the cameras, and the location scout, the costume designer, the composer, the band who granted clearance for a song, the silent extras with weapons in a fight scene, the individual drivers in a chase sequence, and on and on and on. Their recall for detail and respect for their crew is impressive, but it makes the commentary feel like the world’s longest awards-ceremony thank-you speech.
A few fun tidbits are scattered throughout: Apparently Drive Angry’s protagonist was originally written as a 70-year-old man, until Cage got involved and the idea was dropped. Cage signed onto the film after a three-minute meeting, saying he had to play the role because he’d never seen anything so crazy. And Farmer and Lussier both get adorably excited about little details in the film, like the neon sign for their bar Bull By The Balls, or the black headband covered in printed skulls, just because it’s so neat to them that they wrote these things on paper, and then their crew just created them.
They’re similarly gleeful over a script moment where super-tough co-star Amber Heard hops in her car and drives angry: “This was right in the script, too,” Farmer exults. “‘She grabs the gearshift like a cock.’” Lussier describes telling Heard after a couple of takes to grab it more like a cock, “and she just laughed at me. She said ‘All right, that’s what I’ll do.’” Then he describes all the producers drooling over the shot while watching the playback later. Given the film’s over-the-top sex and violence, the commentary could use a lot more such moments of frank humor addressing what they were going for and how they got there, and a lot less broad praise—the name-checking continues up to the very last minute of the closing credits.
What went wrong: Lussier raises the age-old complaints about not having enough time to do everything he wanted, especially since some scenes took a frustratingly long time to set up: “The shot where [Cage] shoots the shotgun, of course, hours to shoot, and I think it’s in the movie for like 23 frames,” he gripes. “Worth it now, but at the time, you were losing other shots, you were ooooahhhh!”
Also, Heard’s character spends a lot the movie in physical combat, and while both men admire her dedication, they also list various people she actually hurt, including an extra she punched in the face, and another who got pissed because she kept yanking off his do-rag, and Farmer himself, who played her ex-boyfriend and had to shoot a fistfight with her. “You had welts,” Lussier says. “You had Amber handprints on your chest for, like, days afterwards… like Amber pawprints tattooed into your chest.” Later, over a scene where Heard scratched villain Billy Burke hard enough to draw blood, and accidentally stabbed him in the face, Farmer notes “I don’t think anybody got out of this unscathed by Miss Amber… she has no slow-down button.”
And in one take of the big sex-and-gunfire scene, a hot shell casing went down Cage’s pants, “and he was like ‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ because it was burning his ass, but I don’t even think he stopped until the take was over. And then he was like, there was a fire in his butt.”
Comments on the cast: In keeping with the everybody-is-awesome theme, the commentators describe everybody as awesome. Cage gets praise for showing up the first day knowing exactly how he wanted to play the character, for all his technical skills and suggestions about the film, and for playing the lead “both harder and softer than we wrote him.” Heard is complimented for her toughness and gameness, Fichtner for his quick, precise, dancer-like movements and sleight of hand, villain Billy Burke for his eagerness to play the character “full-on.” (“He called me just before we started shooting, and he said ‘I’m gonna play him full-on. I didn’t quite know what that meant, but I said ‘Absolutely.’ And full-on is what he is.”) The extras get nearly as much attention, though, right down to the naked woman Heard finds in bed with Farmer and boots into the courtyard: “This was a chilly day.” “Yeah, Christa was a good sport.” Given the movie’s gratuitous, frequent, graphic nudity, Lussier and Farmer are admirably chivalrous; they never leer or slobber over all the flesh on display, or even compliment the actors solely for their looks. It’s all about those actors’ professionalism and gameness.
Inevitable dash of pretension: The duo repeatedly compare their movie to High Plains Drifter, which they cribbed from for Cage’s grim loner character, the gritty tone, and a climactic sequence where the villains beat the crap out of Cage. They also think Drive Angry evokes Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry because of the lack of clear heroes. A car chase is identified as “our Race With The Devil.” Cage’s character is further described as the Terminator by way of Edgar Allen Poe. And Lussier praises Cage as “one of the best technical actors I’ve ever seen, in terms of understanding the physicality of his craft,” by which he means that Cage drives and shoots well.
Also, in a particularly weird bit, when Farmer’s character meets Fichtner’s onscreen, the commentators respond as though they’re meeting the actor in real life: “Wait! Wait, you were in Armageddon!” “You were awesome in Armageddon! I cried at the end of Armageddon!” “I did too!”
Commentary in a nutshell: “These god-killer shots were by Glenn Neufield, our visual-effects supervisor, and his visual-effects team. I know Gary Hutzel also did a lot of the visual effects, some of the better ones. But Glenn tirelessly tried to make everything the absolute best it could be. Sometimes that was more of a challenge than others, but Glenn, if you’re listening, in the end you did a great job, and we don’t hold anything against you. [Laughs.] We love you dearly.”