Nicolas Cage cranks the acting dial to eleven in a kind of, but not really, remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Keitel. The only real similarities between the films are the titles and the very general plot thread of, “Cop tries to solve heinous crime while getting extremely fucked up on various drugs and participating in several examples of lewd behavior in the process”. This film’s Director, the legendary Werner Herzog, claims to have never even seen Ferrara’s original film and it seems pretty apparent that no one was going out of their way to remake the umm…magic of that first movie. This one is more like a companion piece, or another chapter in a possible Bad Lieutenant Anthology? In which case, sign me up for more! Here it’s a different town, different Lieutenant, and different types of “bad” going on. Things never get quite as disturbing as they do in the ’92 film, and Cage’s hijinx are a lot easier to laugh along with, but that still doesn’t mean this is the type of guy you’d want patrolling your streets everyday.
Or is it? The thing that I found so, well…not admirable (but something like that) about the title character is that he just can’t help being a successful police officer. At the beginning of the movie, he seems like he may be kind of an asshole, but at the same time, he risks ruining his expensive underwear by jumping into a flooding prison cell to rescue a trapped inmate in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so you can tell that he does not contain a callous disregard for human life like his partner (Val Kilmer), who advises him to leave the guy down there. Cage’s character actually gets a medal for his heroics, but what he also gets is a back injury sustained by his jump into the flooding area that is set to cause him intense pain for the rest of his life. In his effort to control the pain, the doctors prescribe him painkillers which unfortunately open a gateway to intense drug use and other unsavory activities.
The main thing I heard about this movie before watching it was that Nic Cage is fucking nuts in it. After viewing the film myself, I can tell you that this is, without a doubt, a factual statement. The actor gets a lot of crap these days for slumming through paycheck roles (National Treasure) and sporting bizarre hairdos (Bangkok Dangerous) and these are all viable criticisms but in The Bad Lieutenant, he is completely in the zone; his eyes, so focused and intense, that you could envision him exploding at any second; figuratively or otherwise. He looks like an absolute mess of a human being, slopping around town in an oversized suit with a .44 Magnum sticking nonchalantly out of the front of his pants. He’s constantly sweating and his voice pattern seems to change up every other scene, perhaps depending on his character’s level of sobriety, but it’s all these things that make him, and the film itself, so watchable.
Director Herzog is known for asking a lot of his cast and crew. He had Christian Bale eating maggots in Rescue Dawn, and his film crew pulling a steam ship over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo. It seems he hasn’t lost any of his tact with age; still able to display his own, ever-evolving visual style, while pulling solid performances from all of his actors at the same time. Speaking of actors, this film is chock full of them! And there are some you may even recognize! As previously stated, Val Kilmer shows up playing a sleazy fellow police officer. Then you’ve got Eva Mendes in a solid turn as Cage’s junky/prostitute girlfriend, Brad Dourif (voice of Chucky, the killer doll) playing Cage’s bookie, Fairuza Balk (The Craft, The Waterboy) as a highway patrolman, Xzibit (“Pimp My Ride”, Gridiron Gang) as a big-time drug dealer, Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler’s Mom) as Cage’s Dad’s young(er) wife, and Cage’s Dad himself happens to be Marvin The Janitor, from Die Hard 2!!! (Tom Bower)
Now I have to offer up another Non-Action Disclaimer (NAD? Ehh...) like I did at the end of my review for The International. Before you check this baby out (and you should), I don’t want you to be confused into thinking this is an action film or anything. Yes, Cage’s character is a Lieutenant like John McClane, and yes he is “bad” like umm…Michael Jackson? But he is in no way an action hero of any kind, and even the term “hero” is used beyond loosely. So what do you get instead of shootouts, explosions, and witty one-liners? Well you get to see a strung out mess of a character that provides more than enough entertainment by just standing around, wacked out of his skull, yet still able to get his job done in spite of himself…and in fact, there are actually some pretty good one-liners in this thing, so you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Body Count – 3 (on screen) 5 (off)
Cameos by scaled creatures – 7 (Although I’m not sure if some of these were the same reptiles in more than one scene. Sorry if that sounds racist…I couldn’t tell!!!)