Fucked up Thriller
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Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2010)
12th Apr 10
Crazy Werner Herzog ditches the nuns, wanking and grungy pretensions of his "inspiration", replacing them with lizards and Nic Cage finally atoning for The Wicker Man remake. Still think they should have fed him his own spleen, though.
In arguably the most bizarre development yet in the remake craze, infamous auteur / nut-job Werner Herzog turns his hand to a kind-of reworking of Abel Ferrara's semi-notorious 90's Harvey Keitel vehicle Bad Lieutenant, which caused a ruckus in early 90's Britain, at a time when Chucky movies were being held responsible for the fact that - surprise! - some of the country's youth were just, simply, irredeemably fucked up. Banning it from video for a few months and drawing attention to rapey / wanky highlights for a time distracted us from the fact that it was pretentious exploitation-art house tripe. And extremely dull.
Herzog's interpretation replaces the balls-to-the-wall Keitel with an even less restrained Nicolas Cage cutting loose and sweating, slurring, shouting and scowling his way through a similar role. In the early part of his career - Vampire's Kiss and Wild At Heart, for instance - Cage specialised in this kind of unpredictable, live-wire portrayal, to either enjoyable or irritating effect, depending on your stance. His turn in Bad Lieutenant is all the more fun for following years of the actor moping his way through duff mainstream Hollywood flicks with all the vigour of a gang rape in an old folks' home.
Herzog sets his movie in a post-Katrina New Orleans, where Cage is promoted to lieutenant despite having a coke problem and being severely addicted to Vicodin for his back pains. Cage heads up the investigation when some illegal immigrants are killed execution-style but sleep deprivation, increasing reliance on drugs of various kinds ("Whatever I take is prescription…except for the heroin"), a tumultuous relationship with impossibly glam pro Eva Mendes and a slippery grasp on conventional morals lead the bent cop on a dark road.
There's not a lot of action for a cop movie (especially for one at this length) and Herzog's actual intentions are anybody's guess, with a climactic slo-mo shoot-out and smarmy happy ending suggesting the whole thing has been one long, flippant joke on the audience. It is, however, absolutely compulsive viewing and its galvanised by Cage's return to scene-stealing wacko roles.
He shouts at pharmacists, sees iguanas on his coffee table (Herzog's random close-up reptile shots might be the film's most off-kilter aspect), shares drugs with and / or fucks suspects, and, in perhaps a 2010 movie highlight, obstructs a sick old British lady's oxygen tube, waves a gun in her face and calls her a "selfish cunt". Cage is tremendous fun to watch as his character undergoes a dramatic physical and mental decline. One critic accurately likened his portrayal to Richard III, an apt comparison to a performance in which the actor gradually changes his speech patterns, physique and delivery, developing an insane laugh and a tendency to poignant childhood recollections along the way.
Cage aside, the movie scores with quirky support casting (Val Kilmer and Brad Dourif are a hoot) and a marvellously off-the-wall, funny final scene ("Shoot him again, his soul's still dancing!")