In 'Drive Angry 3D,' Nicolas Cage plays Milton, a father so guilt-ridden over his daughter's cult-related death that he finagles his way out of hell to save his granddaughter from a grisly Satanic sacrifice. Given this set-up, it's strange that Cage flies his freak flag at half-mast for this task; his demeanor here recalls older action favorites like 'Con Air' more than the cracked-out 'Bad Lieutenant' or the unintentionally hilarious 'Wicker Man.' Maybe that's because there's just so much nuttiness to go around already in 'Drive Angry 3D.' Even with Cage's voltage on low, writer Todd Farmer and writer/director Patrick Lussier serve up an endless parade of action-packed weirdness, from a mid-coitus gunfights to balletic, fiery car crashes.
At the beginning of our tale, Milton -- John Milton, obviously -- meets a long-legged Southern girl named Piper (Amber Heard) who curses like a sailor and throws punches like a windmill. She wants out of town, and he wants a ride, so together they burn rubber across state lines trying to find the cult leader and his cronies before it's prime baby-sacrificing time. In turn, they're being pursued by The Accountant, a dapper fellow played by the essential William Fichtner; it's his job to keep tabs on the residents of Hell and, in this case, bring 'em home when one accidentally gets loose.
The first half of the movie keeps a breathless pace that's bolstered by Fichtner's appearances. "Do you think you're Loki? Do you think you're Papa Legba?" sneers Milton as he tries to shoot The Accountant while they race side by side across a bridge. Throughout the first half of the movie, Piper is also still a dominating force. However, once Milton and Piper come into contact with Jonah King (Billy Burke), the Lizard King-like cheese factory, 'Drive Angry 3D' shifts gears. Piper is still throwing punches, but she's lost a bit of her zip in favor of sap. The Accountant is still sniffing out Milton's trail, but he seems to be losing his edge; one suspects he's kind of rooting for Milton to off these faux Satanic dudes once and for all. Jonah's just such a dork with his long fingernails and leather pants that it's hard to believe he's charismatic enough to convince people to kill for him or tough enough to do the sacrifice himself.
As 'Drive Angry 3D' winds towards its inevitable end, what was once wild and crazy becomes rote, with a few exceptions. David Morse is also totally wasted as one of Milton's old friends; his main function is to provide a curt expository briefing on Milton's past for Piper, much of which was drowned out by the drunken patrons of the midnight screening I attended. It seems that as the movie progresses, the characters actually become flatter and less three-dimensional, or at least less interesting.
As for the 3D, it's not nearly as eye-popping here as it was in Lussier's remake of 'My Bloody Valentine,' which featured at least one pickaxe barreling towards my head so realistically that I ducked. It was filmed in 3D and looks great, but not much will be lost if you decide to wait to watch it on DVD.
In the end, 'Drive Angry 3D' is all over the map. It goes from being wildly over the top to trying too hard to not trying nearly hard enough and back again. It's a fun but easily forgettable movie.