Friday, 6 May 2011

Drive Angry (2011) - Passing the action star torch from the uber-masculine eighties/nineties chauvinist to the empowered 21st Century woman

Viewing Context:
Mid-week evening out down the multiplex

Directed by Patrick Lussier, who really seems to specialise in crappy pulp genre stuff. He is joined in the writing by Todd Farmer, with whom he collaborated with on My Bloody Valentine. Interestingly, the pair are due to write a new version of Hellraiser, with Lussier directing again. The two of them seem quite comfortable working within the 18 rating, so given the Hellraiser platform, they might be able to their worth, but nothing they've produced so far convinces that they can be twisted enough; maybe this is their chance.

What happened:
Milton (Nic Cage) drives around trying to rescue his baby granddaughter from a mental cult that killed his daughter, nicked the baby and plan on sacrificing her at the next full moon. Oh, and he is being chased down by Hell's accountant (William Fichtner) because he was dead when all that transpired and had to bust out of Hell to sort it out. Stunningly gorgeous and inspiringly bad-ass Piper (Amber Heard) accompanies him on his rampage.

What I liked:
Balls to the wall: Unrelentingly over the top 18 rated action; bullets, boobs and hatchets flying all over.

All characters were pretty awesome: It wasn’t that the main character was allowed to be full of charisma, while everyone around him exists only to reinforce his importance, as is often the case with high concept spectacle action films. Well this film made all the other characters just as charismatic and interesting. Not only was the girl far from passive (see below), but The Accountant, the cult leader, Jonah King (played by Billy Burke, pictured) and even the leading officer in pursuit had their own appeal and were commanding onscreen presences.
Strong female lead: Piper is not the 'passive', sexually objectified woman, put there to reinforce the male’s masculinity (a la Megan Fox in Transformers). The whole point of the narrative is her active participation; her own agency and the fact that this is something that has been too frequently neglected in high concept Hollywood in the past (see themes below).

What I didn't like:
Her motivation: I thought they could have made it a little clearer why she wanted to tag along with him. I get that it was because her life hadn’t had much meaning prior to now, blah, blah, blah, but it could have been hammered home a little harder.
Too high a budget: Didn't need to have such a budget, or at least it didn't need to use so much computer effects in order to appeal to the over the top angle. i.e. it was no Hobo with a Shotgun.

Passing the torch: This kind of typically uber-masculine, chauvinist action star - dominant in the eighties and nineties and embodied here by Milton - was a shit, and deserves to be in Hell. Yet, he deserves a shot at redemption. He has come back from the dead to pass on his uber-macho action star torch to a new generation. For this, he has chosen this woman Piper; a woman that oozes femininity and does not shy away from her sexualisation, yet is not a sexual object. The most blatant effort to make this distinction was her objectification of the male waiter in the bar, treating him as her object. She has him paint her nails and dangles the possibility that he may be lucky enough to get more. The point here is that she is in complete control and had to neither conform to being the objectified woman, yet nor did she have to swing too far to the other side as an unsexualised plank; she was a balanced 21st century woman.

Scene of the film:
I guess the one that sums the whole film up is the one where Milton, without ceasing his fornication with a bar maid he just picked up (including when he is tazered, much to her simultaneous dismay and pleasure), shoots no fewer than 5 or 6 satanic cultists. This is mirrored against the scene described above with Piper's control of 21st century masculinity.

Performance of the film:
William Fichtner as The Accountant: He had these tiny eccentricities that didn't need to be there, but were the exact kind of thing that the film needed in order to raise it to that spectacular level. It is touches like this that ensure that a film like this, without the character depth, has spectacle throughout all the characters.

Final Word:
It was fun; by no means great, but at least it had something to say

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