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Prepare yourself. Drive Angry 3D, which opens next Friday, is easily Nicolas Cage’s strongest action movie since his mid-’90s golden days, featuring a few set pieces that number among the very best he’s done. Many of those scenes involve cars, not the sort you’ll typically see driving around now but rather big, beautiful vintage muscle cars, remnants of a bygone era.
For writer/director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine) and his writing partner Todd Farmer, putting the film’s focus on these mechanical steeds was an immediate and natural fit.
“Well the story is really a Western, and rather than use horses we used cars,” Lussier said in an recent interview with Spinoff Online. “One of the models for the story was High Plains Drifter. That obviously is a classic Eastwood Western and our version of it couldn’t have [the star] on horseback. The cars came in largely because both Todd and I are big fans of the ’70s car movies, from French Connection to Vanishing Point to Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, things of that era. Race with the Devil is obviously a clear signature piece of the era that we liked very much. There were a lot of ideas that we wanted to do in the story and they all fell together behind the wheel.”
There’s a very clear theme in the selection of automobiles on display, too: a ’64 Riviera, a ’69 Charger, a ’71 Chevelle and, briefly, a ’57 Chevy. These rides were all born in Detroit. “We wanted American muscle cars. We wanted cars from an era that had a very unique look, that were real metal cars,” Lussier said. “When we were writing it, it wasn’t even anything that Todd and I talked about. We didn’t set out to do that, it just became that. We both knew that that’s what it needed to be.”
For those who aren’t up on their automobile history, Lussier provided us with a brief guide to pairing the right scenes with the right vehicles. Beware, though, that the rest of this feature contains spoilers. If you want to go in next Friday completely fresh, it might be best to just bookmark this page for later.
“The opening car you see is a ’64 Riviera,” Lussier said. “That’s the one [Cage] drives out of Hell because of course that’s what people drive in Hell, Rivieras.” In the story, Cage plays a dead man who has come back from Hell to avenge his daughter’s murder and rescue her kidnapped child. “The concept was always that he was stealing the warden’s car, something from the warden’s collection.”
“The next car he drives is a ’69 Charger,” Lussier continued. You first spot the Charger fairly early, right around the time Cage meets up with Piper, played by Amber Heard. It becomes the pair’s chariot for a good portion of the movie. “The car that they get from [David Morse’s character] is a ’71 Chevelle.” This is the one that comes in roughly two-thirds of the way through the movie and ultimately gets trashed during the film’s final over-the-top set piece.
All of the cars for the most part were as factory-fresh as they could be considering they’ve been out of production for decades. “The Rivieras were stock, but the others were modified just to be able to run continually. When you’re dealing with cars that are 40 years old or more it’s occasionally hard to keep them going all the time,” Lussier said. He recalled a moment during a particular stunt shoot when the driveshaft in one of the Chargers simply fell out. “Old metal doesn’t always like to work on cue.”
Lussier explained that it’s typical for this sort of movie to have six of each car on hand, though the Drive Angry 3D team made do with considerably less: three Chargers, three Chevelles, two Rivieras and just the one ’57 Chevy, though that last one wasn’t being put through any heavy stunt rigors. “So you need a runner, a car that runs, and then a car that you can beat up,” he said.
“For the Chargers, a lot of the damage that happened to the Chargers are cosmetic. So that even though it looks like we beat the hell out of those cars, [they’re] still in very good shape. Although they are from 1969, so they’re a little older and a little worn and a little tired, they’re still beautiful cars.” Some damage may be cosmetic, but when it comes to a movie like this one, there’s going to have to be some real damage as well. However, the losses weren’t as heavy as they might appear.
“One of the Chevelles survived beautifully, totally intact,” Lussier said. “Another one looks like it has some fire damage and one did not survive at all. The one that came over a wall and ended up flipping over. That one met with a sad end. The Chevelles were gorgeous cars, really reliable. We refurbished all of them a lot, had them all redone for the film.”
The enjoyable task of tracking down these beautiful pieces of vintage machinery fell to stunt coordinator Johnny Martin and transportation coordinator Randy Kinyon. “The two of them worked together on getting the cars … for the film. Part of that is of course the challenge of finding multiple cars when you’re looking for those kinds of vintage automobiles,” Lussier said. “Finding cars that all look the same, have the same elements and same components, and what are the differences and how do you hide the differences so they all feel like the same car.”
“We wanted cars where you could feel the steel and the girth and the size and the power of the engines, and the machismo that goes with that,” he continued. “It seemed like the appropriate horse for the era of the story.”
Drive Angry 3D opens nationwide next Friday.