Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pleasant Surprise DVD Picks: "Drive Angry" and "Kaboom"

Drive Angry (2011) 
104 min., rated R.
Grade: B -

Nicolas Cage continues his hell-blazing trail of bad paycheck movies and bad hairstyles, but despite the bad biker thatch and the supernatural plot element being tantamount to his "Ghost Rider" crap, the drive-in grindhouse throwback "Drive Angry" is actually good dumb fun. 

Cage effortlessly goes over the top, raising hell and flexing his hambone, as John Milton (no familial relation to the "Paradise Lost" author or Al Pacino's Devil in "The Devil's Advocate"), the grandfather from hell (literally) hell-bent on rescuing his baby granddaughter from a cult, led by the evil King (Billy Burke). With his own daughter killed, Milton is a badass mofo on foot throughout Laughter, Colorado before the kidnapped baby becomes Satan's new messiah by the light of a full moon. A no-bull waitress named Piper (Amber Heard) lets him hitch a ride and rides shotgun with Milton on his road trip to Louisiana. But while Milton tracks King, Milton is in turn being chased by The Accountant (William Richtner), a wily, mysterious entity in a suit, with blood cold enough to murder. 

For what it is, this shamelessly, ridiculously hard-R junker has a helluva lot of spirit and lots of badass 'tude. Writer-director Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer, reteaming after the reasonably fun 2009 remake "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," made the movie they wanted to make and embrace it. These go-getters steer this trash with no-holds-barred zeal and a deliberate wink, and lots of gimmicky, in-your-face 3-Dness at a rapid-fire pace. Some of the car chases get repetitive, but the movie is quick on its feet. It's not entirely clear how to catergorize "Drive Angry": supernatural/occult/road movie/revenge/redemption exploitation fare? But why carp?

If no one else wanted to take this project, Cage certainly did and does it with nutty swagger and a straight tongue-in-cheekiness. The comely Heard is foxy and feisty as Piper, who can take and throw a punch as mean as the guys, and drives angry in her '69 Dodge Charger. And the camera loves her thighs in those Daisy Dukes. As for Richtner, he has loads of fun in the role of The Accountant, reveling in this unpredictable "angel of death" role with dry wit. Burke does a snarling, seductively creepy version of Jim Jones as King. If only David Morse wasn't so criminally underused as Milton's old pal. Also, schlock-horror veteran Tom Atkins has a funny bit role as an Oklahoma sheriff ("When I tell you to aim for their tires, what I mean is aim for their heads."). The soundtrack is also pretty awesome: the Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" and KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way I Like It" spring to mind. 

Rather than coming off sour or mean-spirited (as some exploitation flicks do), "Drive Angry" runs the red light into campy laughs. We know the movie affirms its sense of humor when it opens with a muscle car racing out of a firey gate from Hell, all while the narrator utters a twelve letter word twice out of his trap. Or, when Cage takes out seven or eight men in the Bull By The Balls bar hotel while having great sex with a big-breasted waitress named Candy, and finally taking a swig of Jack Daniels. If you're tickled by gratutious violence and general sleaziness, "Drive Angry" is hot-rod B-movie heaven.

Kaboom (2011) 
86 min., not rated.
Grade: B -

Following his trifecta of “teenage apocalypse” films ("Totally F***ed Up," "The Doom Generation," and "Nowhere"), New Queer Cinema indie filmmaker Gregg Araki brings us another extremely offbeat effort that's “nuttier than squirrel shit.” It's "Kaboom," an imaginative, kaleidoscopic polysexual comedy/murder mystery/apocalyptic sci-fi romp filled to the gills with as many perpetually horny, hedonistic kids as a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation. Whether it's guy and guy, girl and girl, guy and girl, or two guys and one girl, these characters are too busy screwing their brains out to realize the end is near, or something like that. 

About to turn 19, sexually “undeclared” college student Smith (Thomas Dekker) lusts for his straight, “excruciatingly hot” surfer-dude dormmate Thor (Chris Zylka). He's also been having trippy dreams and hallucinations about killers in animal masks and a mysterious dead girl, and finding letters about him being “the chosen son.” His lezzie bestie, Stella (Haley Bennett), has her own problems, trying to shake sexy lover Lorelai (Roxane Mesquida), who turns out to be smothering, needy, and a real witch. 

Despite it feeling like an amateur production, "Kaboom" is a weird, crazy, Skittles-colored midnight movie with the stylemarks of spawning a cult status. It's also stylish, dreamy, hip, and oddly fun. The haphazard plot really isn't worth deciphering here, as it has a lot of unanswered questions and unquestioned answers, with parallels to "Donnie Darko" (also featuring Araki groupie James Duval as stoned RA, The Messiah). The two undeniable standouts are U.K.'s Juno Temple, adorably spunky and cheeky as sexpot London, and Bennett with her hilariously caustic line readings and sexual puns as Stella. The whole of "Kaboom" is unlike any other movie that it defiantly defies pigeonholing.

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