Remember that time Nicolas Cage played a fiery spirit of vengeance defying the Devil Himself? No, we're not talking about 2007's Ghost Rider, but your confusion is quite understandable.
Today, we'd like to draw your attention to Drive Angry (streaming now on Peacock), the 2011 grindhouse actioner starring Mr. Cage as an escaped convict from the Kafkaesque underworld — a speed demon with the not-so-subtle name of "John Milton" — hunting down the Satanic cult leader (Billy Burke) that murdered his daughter in cold blood. Produced amidst the RealD 3D boom kickstarted by Avatar two years prior, the film was a box office disappointment, grossing just $40 million against a budget of almost $50 million.
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That financial letdown put the kibosh on a potential sequel, the basic setup of which was exclusively related to SYFY WIRE by director Patrick Lussier, who co-wrote Drive Angry with Todd Farmer. In essence, Milton and Satan's bean-counting subordinate, The Accountant (William Fichtner), would have gone from enemies to partners after a rogue gang of damned souls assassinate Lucifer with the dreaded God Killer weapon and escape into the mortal realm to raise all kinds of...well, Hell.
"The Accountant and the bureaucracy is trying to keep the walls of Hell from totally crumbling because everybody can get out now," Lussier explained. "The warden’s no longer there. So we always thought of it as a big prison riot and how do you control that and the guys who started the riot? If you don’t bring them back and make an example of them, everybody’s gonna get out."
Despite the fact that more than a decade has passed since the first movie hit theaters, Lussier is still interested in making that follow-up if he can. "I want to see that movie!" he exclaimed. "We’d make it as a cartoon. Hell, I don’t care!"
The good news is that no one can take the first movie away from us, especially the bonkers scene in which Cage (who saw the project as "a ghost story meets The Terminator") takes out a group of cult thugs in a motel room while smoking a cigar, swigging a bottle Jack Daniels, and engaging a lady in coitus. All at the same time, mind you.
Unsurprisingly, filming this sequence was "a very strange thing to do," Lussier recalled. "A lot of things in it are very technical. It’s not just a romp," he added. "Everybody has to be on their A-game ... It was a lot of choreography to figure it all out."
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Everything went off without a hitch, save for the part where a hot shell casing from one of the blank bullets accidentally went "down Nic’s pants into the crack of his ass," the director admitted. "We finished the take and he didn’t break character until the moment we said ‘Cut!' Then he ... had to reach down and pull out this shell that was burning him."
Inspired by road and on-the-run classics like Vanishing Point (1971), Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Race with the Devil (1975), and The Fugitive (1993), the film (named after Bill Murray's "don't drive angry" line in Groundhog Day) was initially conceived as a small-budget vehicle for Tom Atkins, whom Lussier and Farmer had worked with on My Bloody Valentine 3D. The idea of bringing Cage on board came from producer, Michael De Luca.
"Mike had just finished working with Nicolas Cage on something and he said, ‘Nic would love this. This is the exact kind of thing he would love to do.’ So he was the only actor we reached out to and he said 'Yes' immediately," Lussier said. Ever the committed thespian, Cage "showed up on set knowing every line of dialogue for the entire movie ... [and] had all these different variations ready to go."
If one didn't know any better, they'd probably write off Drive Angry's use of 3D as an opportunistic gimmick meant to cash in on the runaway success of Avatar. The truth, however, is that Lussier and Farmer actually got the drop on James Cameron by almost a full year with My Bloody Valentine 3D (a remake of the early slasher classic).
"We were at the forefront in breaking a lot of ground, but we were also blissfully ignorant about how hard it would be. So we were just charging at it full steam," Lussier says of the Valentine production. "We had a great group of technical people and so often with these things, if you decide it will work, it will work. If you decide it won’t, it won’t. It’s really that simple. So we decided it would work because we were too stupid to know that it might not. We couldn’t imagine it not working, so we just charged ahead blindly to make something that was unique. And with all that knowledge we’d gained, we wanted to make another movie, which was Drive Angry."
Drive Angry is now streaming on Peacock.