Nicolas Cage stars as Milton in "Drive Angry " 3D...

Nicolas Cage stars as Milton in "Drive Angry " 3D directed by Patrick Lussier. Credit: Summit Entertainment

During this Academy Awards season, there has been talk about giving casting directors their own category. If that happens, the 3-D action film "Drive Angry" might just have a shot at an Oscar.

Whoever made the casting choices (the film credits Nancy Nayor) deserves at least honorable mention. For starters, Billy Burke, who plays Bella Swan's hapless father in the "Twilight" films, here becomes a sadistic Satanist. William Fichtner, a veteran character actor often cast as the nightmare boss or the lousy co-worker, stars as an actual demon. And who better to play a supernatural avenger in black denim than Nicolas Cage? (OK, that one's a gimme.)

Cage is the dead and damned John Milton - yep, like the poet - who breaks out of hell to rescue his infant granddaughter from cult leader Jonah King (Burke). Milton is single-minded: When he spots the curvaceous young Piper (Amber Heard) bending over a hot Dodge Charger, his first thought is about getting into the car. Soon the two are burning rubber to stop King from sacrificing that baby.

"Drive Angry" has a cauldron full of good ideas, including Fichtner as The Accountant, a bean counter from hell who enjoys saying things to bystanders like, "See you soon!" There's also a magisterially gonzo sequence in which a gun-packing Milton hops aboard a naked waitress and kills a dozen thugs without ever, ahem, disembarking.

Alas, director and co-writer Patrick Lussier (2009's "My Bloody Valentine") can't maintain this pace beyond the halfway point, when the film begins devolving into nonsense. By the time Milton returns whence he came, the film already has gone there in a handbasket.

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