There’s a reason great rock songs aren’t composed entirely of gnarly guitar solos; without any build-up or modulation, all the virtuosity blends into a dull, homogenous mush. Drive Angry is a Steve Vai solo album of a movie, never letting a second pass without asserting its awesomeness, and thus rarely being awesome. Everything here has been primed to juvenile dazzlement: The slo-mo bloodbaths, the comin’-atcha 3D effects, the canned one-liners, the compulsion to have every major character be the same brand of two-fisted badass. And at the center is a grimly determined Nicolas Cage, repressing his manic side in favor of a Man With No Name stoicism that plays against his strengths. The film desperately needs a wild card, someone or something to break up the stylistic monotony, but his gravity sinks it further into the muck.
Drive Angry has a great exploitation premise: a mission of vengeance, carried out by a man who’s literally shot out of hell. It takes a motivated person to escape hell, but Cage has cause for urgency. His daughter and son-in-law were murdered by Satanic cult leader Billy Burke, who has also kidnapped his infant granddaughter with the intent of sacrificing her in a full-moon blood ritual. Given two days to streak across the country to rescue the baby, Cage joins forces with Amber Heard, a disgruntled waitress who owns a 1970 Dodge Challenger and can throw a good punch. As Cage and Heard chase after a band of heavily armed Satanists, the Devil sends his own pursuer in the form of “The Accountant” (William Fichtner), a crisply dressed minion who will stop at nothing to retrieve Cage.
Fichtner has long been a strange, offbeat, often menacing presence in movies, and his unpredictable spin on “The Accountant” is Drive Angry’s one redeeming facet. He plays the character as something between an intimidator and a bureaucrat, relentless in his methods, yet dutiful in his obligation to restore order. There are no such shadings to Cage, Heard, or the Satanists, who are exactly what they seem to be. And co-writer/director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine) makes little effort to bring the same flourish to the story that he does to the style. Drive Angry feels like a five-minute Comic Con show reel that’s been expanded beyond its limits. It’s agonizingly cool.