Sharp 3D lensing and low-octane camp humor help rev up “Drive Angry,” which stars a peroxide-blond Nicolas Cage as Milton, a literal speed demon on leave from hell in a bid to find the devil-worshipping freak who killed his daughter and abducted his infant grandson. Despite amply funded f/x, including some spectacular muscle-car stunts, the movie motors to the grindhouse with squealing tires and guitars, gratuitous nudity and gore, and a scantily clad greasy-spoon waitress endearingly played by Amber Heard. Decent grosses should result despite Cage’s diminished drawing power, although cult rather than chart-topping status seems likely.
The film’s most outrageous setpiece, shot in blatantly cheesy slo-mo by co-writer/director Patrick Lussier (2009’s “My Bloody Valentine”), has Cage’s immortal badass dispatching a succession of blade-twirling goons in an Oklahoma motel room while sporting dark shades, sucking a cigar, slurping from a whiskey bottle and, er, staying in the closest possible proximity to a naked one-night stand.
Cage’s Schwarzenegger-esque turn as terminator Milton is well matched by Heard’s playfully physical perf as Piper, a natural-born butt-kicker whom Lussier treats with unusual respect by the sexist standards of modern action fare. Quitting her job at a Colorado diner run by lecherous Fat Lou (Jack McGee), then breaking her engagement to philandering Frank (co-writer Todd Farmer), kicking-and-punching Piper agrees to drive weirdo Milton to Louisiana in her ex’s ’69 Charger, one of several vintage hot rods fetishized in the film.
On the road, Milton monosyllabically explains to Piper that he’s chasing Jonah King (Billy Burke), sleazy leader of a satanic cult that Milton’s kid had tried to escape in her final hours. King, who keeps the deceased’s femur bone for fun, plans to sacrifice Milton’s baby grandson under a full moon by way of creating hell on earth.
Toting a devilish shotgun called the “God-killer,” Milton himself is being pursued by cops as well as by the Accountant (William Fichtner, enjoyably hammy), a natty dresser who’s in cahoots with the man downstairs.
En route to the pic’s hellfire climax, countless scenes of high-speed road rage keep “Drive Angry” plenty watchable, particularly as Lussier favors longer-than-average shot lengths and a precisely focused use of 3D that never strains the eyes. Arguably, the film’s niftiest effect is relatively simple, as the third dimension allows Milton’s violent memories to play in the foreground while his haunted face remains visible in the back.
Although Cage doesn’t offer anything remotely new here, the film benefits greatly from tongue-in-cheek thesping by Fichtner, Heard and, in a late-reel cameo, David Morse as Milton’s mellow buddy Webster. All the actors have fun with the pic’s trashy dialogue, while tech credits capably combine digital and real-world tricks.