Watching Drive Angry 3D is kind of like choking down a frozen chicken-fried steak dinner that got a little too cold after you forgot it in the oven; you weren't expecting filet mignon when you opened the box, but what should have been a decadent cinematic treat was spoiled by simple neglect. One glance at Patrick Lussier's filmography reveals that he's gradually becoming the Swanson of shock cinema -- a filmmaker capable of little more than reheating old ideas that tasted better fresh. Drive Angry 3D strains with all its horsepower to deliver a trashy good time, but a prevailing cheapness and complete lack of wit prevent it from ever achieving exploitation perfection.
Nicolas Cage headlines this high-octane thriller as Milton, a hard-case felon who breaks out of Hell to prevent the cult that murdered his daughter from sacrificing his infant granddaughter to Satan on the night of the full moon. With just three days to go before the ritual killing, Milton crosses paths with knockout waitress Piper (Amber Heard), who steals her cheating ex-boyfriend's vintage Charger and joins him on his quest to save the Earth from the forces of darkness. With Piper's help and a mean set of wheels to keep them moving, they may have a shot at taking down diabolical cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) before he achieves his malevolent goal. But should Jonah get the opportunity to make his dark sacrifice, he will become the most powerful man alive and all of humanity will suffer. Unfortunately for Milton, the cops are quickly closing in, and the Devil's determined minion, "The Accountant" (William Fichtner), will stop at nothing to drag Milton back down to Hell. With each passing minute, Milton's last shot at redemption is fading, and the fate of the entire world inches ever closer to infernal darkness.
An unholy hybrid of Ghost Rider and Race with the Devil, Drive Angry 3D hits so many speed bumps that it quickly becomes hard to keep count. The main factors that prevent it from ever lurching into top gear, however, are a depressingly lazy screenplay and completely uninspired direction. Though Lussier and co-screenwriter Todd Farmer could have been forgiven for failing to offer us more than a quick glimpse of Hell in order to get to the action as quickly as possible, the decision to relay Milton's original death via a sloppy series of vague throwaway lines leaves the character hollow at the center, and fails to capitalize on the film's most intriguing concept -- the fact that his burning vengeance instilled enough determination in him to outsmart Satan himself, and put the lake of fire in his rear-view mirror. If you're going to make a movie based on that kind of high concept, it would be worth the effort to give the audience a taste of his infernal flight that amounts to more than a cheesy CG shot of a muscle car speeding through a burning landscape. Meanwhile, the car chases are paint-by-numbers, and the only action sequence that completely embraces the sleazy absurdity of the whole endeavor -- a hotel-room battle involving Milton, a hooker, a bottle of booze, and an onslaught of incompetent Satanists -- is too incidental to have any real impact.
Ultimately, the only people you could really recommend Drive Angry 3D to are William Fichtner fans; with his character's hilarious penchant for calmly leaving a trail of explosive carnage wherever he goes, we know that the movie is about to get enjoyable every time he turns up. Unfortunately, horror icon Tom Atkins is completely wasted as a police chief with an unorthodox method of delivering orders; prolific character actor Jack McGee is gone before the end of the first reel; David Morse does little more than offer a set of replacement wheels at an opportune moment; and Burke looks like a country-pop star who lost his fingernail clippers as the femur-toting Satanist leader intent on making a human sacrifice -- his professionally styled hair and tacky soul patch giving him the unhallowed menace of Billy Ray Cyrus after a trip to the salon. Meanwhile, Heard looks unnaturally airbrushed even after being punched in the face by her brutish boyfriend and repeatedly dragged through the dirt, and Cage is the guy with the weird hair who's just there to blast his God gun and have a good time.
By the time Milton is swigging cheap beer from a skull and getting ready to roll south again, Drive Angry 3D has already been coasting on fumes for over half its mercifully brief running time -- not unlike the rest of Lussier's drearily derivative filmography, which seems to be fueled by precious little more than recycled ideas from filmmakers with actual imaginations.