Drive Angry is above all else a shockingly fetishistic motion picture. It fetishises acts of brutal violence; it fetishises gorgeously preserved early-70s muscle cars; in an extremely distant third place, it manages, just barely, to fetishise naked women. But mostly violence and cars: the former presented by director Patrick Lussier with lingering, worshipful slow-motion, the latter in loving tracking shots that glide across the vehicles with the rapt attention but awed distance of a gentle, shy lover. And both are further given an erotic gloss with 3-D that serves almost no discernible narrative purpose whatsoever, and isn't even particularly amusing in the tawdry fashion of a Piranha 3D, serving mainly to call still further attention to how languid is the violence, and how gleaming are the cars. It's something of a curiosity to see a movie in which 3-D can be at once so tacky and so restrained, especially a film that was "Shot in 3D!" as the ad campaign yells desperately, assuring an audience that has quickly learned to avoid post-production 3-D conversions at all costs (and why not, as painfully ugly as those films are, and as ludicrous an excuse as it is to chisel out another $4?) that this Drive Angry will look much nicer than all those other movies you're overpaying to see in unmotivated dimensionality.

And it does, at that, look better, insofar as the effect is smoother, although the film serves as a good argument for why things like lens flares and double exposures should never, ever be used in a 3-D movie. Especially double exposures, which are cheesy enough as it is but simply look ghastly when the two planes of the separate exposures are nowhere remotely near one another. Lussier ought to have known better: his last film was the 2009 remake My Bloody Valentine, a film of considerable flaws that at least knew how to do tacky 3-D right. Ah, well.

The film itself concerns Nicolas Cage being a hard-ass, driving muscle cars, and killing people by the handful. In slow motion. And 3-D. In point of fact, Cage plays John Milton,* a dead man escaped from the bounds of Hell to find religious charismatic Jonah King (Billy Burke), leader of the wackos who murdered Milton's daughter and kidnapped his infant granddaughter to sacrifice her to Satan on the night of the full moon. He is accompanied by Piper (Amber Heard), an ex-waitress with a '69 Dodge Challenger, who gets some very major action setpieces of her very own and is never once turned into a weak girl that must be rescued; they are pursued by a mysterious figure sent from Hell to retrieve Milton, calling himself the Accountant (William Fichtner). The Accountant doesn't drive cars as cool as the Challenger, or as the Chevelle that Milton borrows from his old friend Webster (the indomitable David Morse) when the Challenger breaks as a result of too many slow-motion action stunts.

I rather admire the way that the script, co-written by Lussier with Todd Farmer (of My Bloody Valentine and Jason X), assumes we get it: we see the opening scene in which Milton tears ass out of a rather delightfully designed CGI Hell, we get the jokes about "I thought you were dead", and we never need a big scene where it's explained to us. That actually represents a fairly respectful appreciation of the viewer's intelligence for a big honkin' effects-driven horror/action picture. In fact, there's not really any way that Drive Angry is particularly stupid or slapdash from a narrative standpoint: it tells a grimy story with absolute sincerity, and while there are unquestionably people who'd argue that "dead man escapes from Hell in a muscle car to wreak vengeance" is already slapdash and stupid, that's completely missing the point. There's still a bad way and a good way to tell that story, and largely, Drive Angry tells it the good way. Or the "good enough" way, at least. Cage is brutish and snarly and has one of the worst hairpieces he's ever worn - or, God forbid, it's his actual hair - and he is an absolute pleasure. When Nic Cage is awesomely bad, it's almost as worth watching as when he's actively good, especially because he seems entirely aware of how bad he is, and delighted by it, and in the wake of Season of the Witch, a good bad Nic Cage performance was badly needed. It's even more fun to see Fichtner, a quintessential That Guy of the last decade, getting a fairly huge role and chewing on it with cheesy elan: like Cage, he's hamming it up and having a grand time doing it, and giving a fairly effective performance as an implacable villain.

And yet, this is mostly not about the characters and not even slightly about the dramatic conflict, but about the spectacle and the incident. Which is, like I said, fetishistic. "He killed them while we were fucking!" moans a traumatised survivor of Milton's passing at one point, which sums up the film's tone pretty darn well. A shot of several bullets flying past the camera in 3-D here; a nice slow close-up of each assailant that Milton kills in a motel room there, bullets cranked on the sound design to rattle like thunderclaps. It's not just that the film encourages our bloodlust, by treating violence so lovingly; it barely even registers that human beings are involved at all, instead stylising every setpiece to the point where it reads primarily as movement and color and sound, a gorgeous ballet of amorality. That's distasteful, obviously; it is, however, refreshing to stumble across a movie that doesn't give a shit about being violent, either by self-censoring or by going overboard with nihilistic cruelty. It's just violent in a very prosaic way, exploitative but somehow not nasty: I should situate Drive Angry as the latest in the trickle of grind house throwbacks, movies like Stuck and Piranha 3D that seem wholly unaware that the 1970s ever ended. And not the kind of grind house throwback made by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez and the directors in their sphere of influence, where it's ironic and self-knowing: just a straight-up exploitation picture of the old school.

I wish, in fact, that Drive Angry had been made in the 1970s, because if it had, it would almost certainly be about 85 minutes long, tops. That would have let it dart in, do its filthy business, and dart out, and we'd all be thoroughly charmed by its excess. Instead, it is a modern film with a modern film running time, and that means among other things that it has a positively grueling middle section, when the propulsive energy of the beginning and the camp Satanism and excess of the ending aren't there, and we just get to watch scene after scene of Milton and Piper driving angrily. A film of this sort absolutely cannot afford to ever be boring, and the fact that nearly all of the second act of Drive Angry just wanders perfunctorily along from one geyser of violence to the next is single-handedly the reason I can't actually turn all my enthusiasm for so many parts of the movie into an actual recommendation. It's tawdry enough to be tasteless fun, for sure, but there is simply nothing fun about feeling a script spinning its wheels, and for a solid 30 minute stretch, that's all that Drive Angry has to offer.