Drive Angry (in 3-D): Yet Another Nicolas Cage Trashy Actioner

Walking a fine line between sheer junk and enjoyable trash, Drive Angry, the latest Nicolas Cage action opus, is a sleazy, unpretentious flick, which delivers the basic goods that are expected from its high-concept premise and generic nature.

The film, which will be released domestically over Oscar weekend, on February 25, by Summit Entertainment, and in select international territories by Warner, should generate quick cash in wide play out.

As critics, we have stopped asking what motivates Nicolas Cage, once a brilliant actor and an Oscar winner (for Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas,” in 1995) to engage in such undemanding movies, which he seems to make with predictable regularity at least once or twice a year.  By now there are at least a dozen of them, and they may deem to be grouped and labeled as a subgenre (I am using sub in both senses of the term).

Hopefully Cage’s paychecks provide major compensation for screen roles that he can now play with his eyes closed. To Cage’s credit, he immerses himself fully in playing them.

In “Drive Angry,” Cage plays escaped criminal John Milton, a man who had deserted his only daughter when she was a teenager.

Main plot deals with how Milton’s vengeful father drives in anger and fury a turbo-charged ’69 Dodge Charger in his effort to hunt down the satanic cult leader who had brutally killed his daughter and had kidnapped her baby.

A movie without discernible rules, or describable logic, “Drive Angry,” made by Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer (the team behind the hit, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”), unfolds as a road feature.  It’s a violent, gory, blood-spattered road trip, in which everything and anything goes, including a cult of Satanists standing for Hell on Earth.

Structurally, the picture is a mess, jumping from one preposterous sequence to another.  We don’t expect much coherence from such flicks, but “Drive Angry” is truly an aggregate of action set-pieces with plenty of dull and risible dialogue in between them.

To increase tension, the narrative sets (arbitrary) time limits to the hunt.  As the clock ticks fast, Milton has only three days to track down villains, a crazy, murderous quasi-messiah Jonah King (Billy Burke) and his devil-worshipping followers.

Following conventions (or rather clichés), in order to rescue his infant granddaughter from a bloodthirsty cult intent on sacrificing her under the next full moon, Milton enlists the help of Piper (Amber Heard), a sexy waitress with a hot car and a mean right hook.

Along the bloody way, Milton and Piper leave a trail of carnage from Colorado to Louisiana, evading ruthless assassins, outraged police officers and a mysterious figure simply known as The Accountant (William Fichtner), who functions as the Devil’s right-hand man.

Cage, who has played many obsessive and haunted heroes and anti-heroes before, gives a creditable performance as yet another mad vigilante, fueled by an intense rage that’s both superhuman and subhuman.

What’s reasonably “new” here, but decidedly unsuccessful, is the scribes’ effort to frame Milton’s actions as his last chance for redemption.

The movie’s saving grace is its occasional wry and dark (but not witty) humor, though only part of which is intentional.

The screenplay, co-written by director Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer (who have also collaborated on “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”), is described as original, because it is not based on a previously published source.  But in fact it’s a collection of overly familiar ideas, themes, and images, mixed (or rather thrown) together in an unimaginative way.

To camouflage the movie’s shortcomings, helmer Lussier gives the proceedings fast pacing, so that we don’t have much time to think.  And, to be fair, he is helped by decent production values, courtesy of the good cinematographer Brian Pearson (who had formerly shot the Will Smith vehicle, “I Am Legend).