George Nolfi´s The Adjustment Bureau is clean and competently made, centered around an intriguing Philip K. Dick premise: free will does not exist, only the appearance of free will; behind the curtains, fate is enforced by an Adjustment Team.
While the film takes Dick´s premise, the plot diverges from his short story and adds an intriguing romantic angle: what if two people fall in love, but they aren´t meant to be together? In Dick´s world, the bureaucrats behind the scenes are always working to keep them apart.
This is good material, and while action or sci-fi fans will be disappointed, the romance angle pays off. Still, something doesn´t quick click here, and the film doesn’t really gel as it should. It’s modestly entertaining throughout, but never seems to be firing on all cylinders; by the end, what was initially compelling stuff has become unexpectedly bland and predictable.
Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a rising young politician who has just been defeated in his bid to become New York´s next Senator due to a scandalous frat house photo from his past. Before his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) in the men´s room. It´s love, or something like that, and the two share a quick kiss before she departs; she inspires him to give an open-hearted speech that immediately makes him the favorite for the next election.
The next morning, David unexpectedly runs into Elise on a bus; sparks fly, again. But David was never meant to be on that bus: when he arrives at his office, he witnesses men in suits conducting scans on the frozen bodies of his colleagues. Mitchell (The Hurt Locker´s Anthony Mackie) and Richardson (Mad Men´s John Slattery) pull him aside and explain to him the true ways of the world: they monitor and manipulate small actions that lead to large consequences and enforce a pre-ordained fate set by a mysterious, God-like Chairman. They agree to let him live with this knowledge (rather than “reset” him) as long as he never reveals their secrets.
One last thing: he can never see Elise again.
The rest of the film takes place some months, and then some years, in the future, as David struggles with this loss. Despite the sci-fi premise, The Adjustment Bureau plays out as a romance, with a fight against the fate – and the men who enforce it – that keeps the two lovers apart.
Damon and Blunt are effective as the young lovers, and there´s modest chemistry between them. Familiar faces – Slattery, Mackie, and Terence Stamp, who shows up later – give the Adjustment Team some depth, but they´re effectively playing bland, faceless bureaucrats, variations on The Matrix´s Agent Smith.
A feeling of ‘good enough´ permeates The Adjustment Bureau – it´s interesting, mildly engrossing, nicely filmed – but towards the end the film becomes more generic and formulaic and we´re ultimately left unsatisfied. As science fiction or romance, it doesn´t quite reach the modest level of The Time Traveller´s Wife or Somewhere in Time. It just lacks bite – Dick´s ideas are never faithfully explored.
The film does, however, make excellent use of it´s New York City locations (the Adjustment Team teleports from door to door), which include Yankee Stadium, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Statue of Liberty.
Full-fledged, southern-fried grindhouse sleaze, Patrick Lussier´s Drive Angry knows exactly what it is and delivers all the violence, sex, action, and attitude that we could expect. It fails to deliver much in the way of story (plot exposition frequently stops the film dead in its tracks), but those in the mood for authentic 70s drive-in fare are likely to be more than satisfied; more discriminating audiences should stay far, far away.
Nicholas Cage stars as John Milton (more likely a reference to the Al Pacino character in The Devil´s Advocate than a nod to the English poet), a man who, opening narration informs us, has literally escaped from Hell to chase down the satanic cult responsible for murdering his daughter and kidnapping his infant granddaughter. As we first meet Milton, he solemnly blows away two cult members with a shotgun while telling another to “let ‘em know I´m coming.”
Further plot description is unnecessary; the setup is in place before the credits start, and the rest of the film is all about how Milton gets from point A to B and how many bodies he goes through to get there. Along the way, from Colorado to Louisiana, he meets Piper (Amber Heard), a small-town waitress with an attitude who inadvertently gets mixed up in all the bloodshed.
On Milton´s trail is a man who refers to himself as The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of the Devil who also serves as a Grim Reaper-like figure (“I´ll be seeing you in three months,” he tells one man, though he doesn´t bat an eye while planting a broken baseball bat through the skull of another). In dealing with this immortal figure, Milton has an ace up his sleeve: the “Godkiller”, a God-killing shotgun with three very special rounds. How did Milton escape Hell with the Godkiller? “I picked it up and walked out,” he tells us. ‘Nuff said.
Drive Angry is a true grindhouse throwback, even moreso than the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, which had some artistic aspirations. This has none. While wallowing in depravity, the film isn´t afraid to lop off limbs and heads and spray blood over the audience in three dimensions, and throw in copious amounts of T&A to boot. The film´s most memorable scene features Milton blowing away baddies in the midst of a coital encounter, shot in loving slo-mo with every spatter of blood and bounce of breast carefully noted.
Cage, with flowing locks of golden hair and five-day stubble, is a gas to look at; his performance, however, is disappointingly bland and subdued as he plays it professionally cool. Fichtner finds the right tone and steals his scenes as The Accountant, even when the script forces him into a corner. Also effective is Billy Burke (Bella´s father in the Twilight films) as Jonah King, the creepy cult leader.
Ultimately, this film is indefensible trash; you have been warned. I cannot say it is good on any level, but it´s also very much the film Lussier had intended to make, and the film his audience expects to see.
Drive Angry was shot in 3D; I like how the advertisements emphasize that fact, subtly allaying fears that this is another 3D post-production conversion. In reality, the 3D adds next to nothing; it´s certainly used less effectively here than in Lussier´s previous film, My Bloody Valentine, though maybe the technology just seemed fresher back in 2008. The novelty value worn away, I wonder what future awaits 3D cinema; it´s a sad fact that beyond James Cameron and Avatar, the most imaginative use of the technology was probably by Paul W. S. Anderson in Resident Evil: Afterlife.