ANGRY especially seems to labor under the impression that if it filters in enough Sons of Anarchy auto-erotic Americana --churches, flags, barbecues, Satanism, gasoline, redneck bars, trailers, diners, engine failures, and trigger-happy Arizona cops -- and of course cars, cars, cars, we'll forgive it its lack of any legit trespasses. It dresses awfully badass for a film afraid to drive even a hair outside the pre-established yellow lines of the "vehicular Satanist" genre. Even old Nic Cage is more or less on cruise control, unwilling to floor it with any of his signature hammy over-emoting. Outside of speeding and shooting some cops (who shot at him first, yo! Stay in school) he may as well be a Sunday school teacher.
Both ANGRY and HORNET think they can get away with having opening scenes where a cool character is walking in slow motion towards the camera as some car or building slowly explodes behind him, like it's not been done to death, buried in an avalanche of parody, dug up, satirized, buried again, re-exhumed with reverse firing rockets after being buried alive by bulldozers hired by the guy who won the Oscar for INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (Scheisse! Habe Ich seine nahmen so bald vergessen?)
DRIVE finds Cage--once again back from the grave to avenge his daughter's death and/or save his granddaughter after rotting in Hell. Apparently Hell consists of watching helplessly from beyond the veil as your loved ones suffer. If the veil in this case was the screen and we were his loved ones, well, there you are, all meta and--unless you're at a drive-in or 3-D ready--choking on the exhaust fumes of cynical producers and product placement.
A pretty boy from the WB casting couch (Billy Burke) is the swaggering evangelical Satanist cult leader who's holding onto Cage's granddaughter until the moon is right for the solstice sacrifice which will herald doomsday. William Fichtner is 'the accountant' who's followed Cage up from Hell to ask him to at least call Satan and let him know when he intends coming home for dinner.
There are some plusses to DRIVE ANGRY, such as the lack of alcohol abuse: in one scene Cage is shooting bad guys while having sex with a naked waitress, fully clothed, with sunglasses (that's not the plus part) and holding a bottle of whiskey. He shoots the guys without spilling a drop and even takes a slow mo swig between bullets. The copious humiliated naked women parts however taint the film with that new leather misogynistic smell. Amber Heard, Nic's gal Friday has a lot of moxy and fighting skillz, but does that really make up for her objectification? She all but grinds herself on the hood like a frat pledge's dorm room poster. And don't skanky waitresses have mothers, too? Where's the mom of that abused prostitute roaring back from the grave to punch old Nic?
Hell, by the way, is depicted here as a kind of hustler's paradise, like Phoenix, AZ (where my brother Fred lives) but tinted red and with more ash. I don't know much about the autos in DRIVE ANGRY-- that's Fred's department--but I do know one thing, they're not stupid SUVs, and that's good enough for me. My first car was a 1976 Ford Maverick, which I could get up to 90 mph to jump this hill near my house and get massive air. It wasn't considered too hot at the time, but now looking back that thing was the shit!
|Mine was tan, but you get the point|
GREEN HORNET is marginally more engaging, though Seth Rogen (who co-wrote) proves here that when shove comes to shovel he can bromance crotch gags but he can't make us love again, and while director Jean Michel Gondry has made us love again--in the past--he doesn't do it here. I was a huge Green Hornet fan thanks to an old radio show LP (left) I listened to a dozen times after getting my wisdom teeth out. Nothing like oral pain and opiates to make a 14 year old kid open to new ideas. I learned how to do an Irish accent based on Britt Reid's faithful chief reporter Axford (played by Edward James Olmos for some reason in this new version). I still use some of Axford's expressions in my everyday speech, such as "Sure'n it must be tha hornet!" So yeah, I know a little about this character... and that makes me dangerous.
Much as I revere some of Jean Michel Gondry's previous films I can only imagine how much more awesome HORNET would be with Jody Hill directing. The unsung genius behind the genuinely anarchic OBSERVE AND REPORT (see 'A Travis for Our Times'), Hill would have found the right note between comedy and chaotic, and the music would have been 15x as awesome! As it is, HORNET's music choices are too keyed to demographic market research to not whiff of cross-promotion, the best that can be said is that the songs avoid the 'word association' game these films so often rely on. I kept waiting for some emo cover of Joni Mitchell's "Just a little Green" or nu-metal crunk version of "It's Not Easy Being Green", or maybe "Green Onions" or Hold Steady's "Hornets! Hornets!"
To its credit, HORNET plays with issues of class, sexism, race, and entitlement - stuff that also reveals its director's a socialist (or French, or both). Shouldn't Kato be pissed that he's smarter, more talented and tougher than his boss? Of course he should! But Gondry illuminates class resentment in a country that denies class exists; he brings up issues we in our American stupor have elephant in the roomed right out of our vision, so that leaves us with a bad taste. How dare he suggest our hired help is disgruntled? Jay Chou looks good in turtlenecks and underplays brilliantly, but his martial arts skill is semi-buried under a ton of TERMINATOR DARK KNIGHT-style digital 'POV weapon-scanning' that's just not needed. All Seth Rogen as Brit Reid has going for him is a good party bro vibe and the ability to take a punch and dish one out. Meanwhile a lot of prime real estate goes to waste - and the associations with rich kid cinema come wafting in from the pool like the stank off a maidless frat house.
|The original Badass TV show|
I'll probably have forgotten these two films by the time I get 3-D TV and can see them how they're meant to be seen, and I'm glad. But, seriously? What's up with Cage and these undead avenging dad roles? I haven't seen GHOST RIDER "officially" but I feel in my gut it's the same plot. Cage seems self-typecast as an all-American semi "good ole" boy, destined to return again and again from the dead to air his turbo-charged grievance against the demon/man who killed--or is about to kill--his child, wife and/or grandchild. All I can do is cradle a stack of Cage's latest films all purchased $4 for $20 in the Blockbuster sale bin and shout "NoooooO!" while shaking my fist in slow motion at the overhead camera... then, in even slower motion, the whole chain of video rental stores blows up as I stroll boldly forth into the realm of internet streaming, Netflix, and 3-D. The end... of an era.
But not the end of Nic Cage! He's ready to drive up from Hell again, whenever money is needed, in whatever costume it is you ri-quar of him. If what you ri-quar is he get his 3-D ass up in them woods, maybe you're a hillbilly in DELIVERANCE, or maybe an industry suit afraid to step outside the dirtbike/bag killer revenge genre, forcing some female relative of Cage's to be abused in a manner sufficient to warrant his subsequent dour vindictiveness. Mess with his girl/s, he'll kill you. Mess with his car, he'll give you the horn.