Nicolas Cage stars in "Drive Angry 3D." (Richard Foreman Jr, / Summit…)
On the official crazy-time scale of Nicolas Cage onscreen craziness, "Drive Angry" rates at least a 7, maybe an 8. Directed by Patrick Lussier from a script by Lussier and Todd Farmer, the film could easily have rated higher but the filmmakers bog down their own nutty mayhem with much exposition, which has its own level of nuttiness.
Cage's character is named John Milton — get it? Like "Paradise Lost" John Milton? — and that is in essence what passes for deeper meaning here. Cage plays a mysterious loner who picks up a small-town waitress (Amber Heard) as a companion on his relentless quest to kill a foppishly flamboyant satanic cult leader (Billy Burke). Following them on the way is an even more mysterious loner (William Fichtner) who is revealed as an emissary from the Great Beyond acting as some sort of referee in a long-simmering supernatural grudge match.
Lussier and Farmer push farther into the winking/subversive comic territory they explored with their 2009 remake of "My Bloody Valentine," with Lussier again having fun exploring just how many things he can fling at the camera for maximum 3-D effectiveness.
Just a few minutes into "Drive Angry" and a hand is blasted forward. The tally grows to include an exploded jawbone, shotgun shells and a delicate lock of Cage's hair hurtling out at the audience. Heard has a fistfight with a fully naked woman, and in the film's most over-the-top moment, Cage is gleefully wearing sunglasses after dark, smoking a cigar, drinking booze, firing a gun and having sex all at the same time.
Strict realism, obviously, is not the coin of the realm here. It's all goofy, sloppy fun, but its giddy self-awareness comes to feel like a lazy excuse for the slack pacing.
The young actress Heard is given a sidekick role that is partly thankless, mostly just undercooked. Heard has proved herself, in films such as "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" and "John Carpenter's The Ward," to have a knack for projecting a cutting, perceptive intelligence and a flickering air of danger while also having the looks of, well, Amber Heard.
Lussier has some 3-D fun with her retro-bombshell figure at first, but then seems to lose track of just what to do with her as both a character and a performer. Heard's adeptness at firing off profanities in a manner at once both salty and sweet makes for an interesting foil against Cage, but the opposing temperaments of the his and Heard team — he's crazy, she's cool — never feels fully exploited.
And while "Drive Angry" lacks true forward momentum and fury, making its title more a tease than a promise, it's actually refreshing that Lussier and Farmer don't belabor the film's internal mythology of satanic cults, hell and the devil's administrative assistants. It all hangs together, more or less, which seems like enough.
'Drive Angry 3D'
MPAA rating: R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: In general release