Friday, October 23, 2009


Werner Herzog's remake of the 1992 Harvey Keitel flick BAD LIEUTENANT is insane. Herzog is basically inviting us to join with his actors in laughing at the crime thriller genre. To say that the performances are hammy, or that the direction is off-the-wall, doesn't even begin to capture it. Problem is, with everything subordinated to a cheap laugh, there's nothing to hold our attention for the two hour run-time.

The original flick was directed by Abel Ferrara. It was a gritty, sleazy exploitation film about a New York cop strung out on drugs and booze, investigating the rape of a nun, whose forgiveness of her attacker, the cop can't understand. It was down and dirty, sure, but it was serious, after its own fashion. I was expecting a similar tone to this remake. After all, the new flick is written by William Finkelstein, whose credits include NYPD Blue, Law & Order and Murder One. But no.

Nic Cage stars as a corrupt cop, self-medicating for back pain with smack and crack he hustles from people he's taking down. His girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is a hooker, he's running up serious gambling debts, and he's trying to bring down a local drug baron for executing a Senegalese pusher and his family. The cop claims that there's no limit to what you can achieve when you concentrate, which is like a kind of insane joke at the centre of the film. Because just when the cop should be interrogating someone, or investigating a crime scene, Herzog decides to spend a few minutes in extreme close-ups of iguanas set to a hammy version of "Please release me". In one shot, you can actually see Cage in the background cracking up. By the time Cage's character is ruffling the feathers of a "connected" client of his hooker girlfriend in Biloxi, the movie has truly jumped the shark into "just for laughs" territory. I mean, you can admire Herzog's insanity all you like, but what really is the difference between this flick and SNAKES ON A PLANE?

Some reviewers are going to try and sell you the idea that this movie is so ludicrous it's brilliant. Nope. If this were directed by anyone other than Herzog, they'd be calling it an over-long pastiche B-movie and giving it one star. Don't believe the hype.

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF NEW ORLEANS played Venice, Telluride, Toronto and London 2009. It opened this autumn in Italy, Greece and Israel. It opens on November 6th in Romania, on November 20th in the US, on December 2nd in Belgium, on January 8th in Sweden, on January 15th in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, and on March 3rd in France.

1 comment:

  1. Nick Paredes12/12/09 4:21 AM

    You didn't like Nicolas Cage's performance? How was that not entertaining? It seems like you had some preconceived notions of what this film should have been and therefore despised it when it didn't fulfill those notions. Must a film have a traditional plot? Must it have a literal or moral message? It seems to me you have answered those two questions with a resounding "yes", and shut the door a long time ago for any other possibility. That outlook, to me, is boring. I found the film fascinating and was glad to see a refreshingly good performance by Nick Cage (it had been a while). Try engaging in a piece of art with an open mind for once. You'll find that you enjoy a lot more things than you thought you ever could.