Its been a long time since I saw the original Bad Lieutenant (which I should probably remedy), so any comparison herein will be lazy and uninformed. Just like the rest of my reviews, yeah? I am a fan of Nicolas Cage, I love his early work, his action work, his drama work, hell, even his shitty work. Despite the fact that he essentially always plays Nicolas Cage, he manages to win me over, almost every time. Werner Herzog, however, just passed me by. Sure, I’ve seen Grizzly Man and his remake of Nosferatu, but I think that really could be it. Go ahead, you can lynch the supposed “cinephile” now.
When I first heard about a remake of Bad Lieutenant, I thought “shit, another pointless remake.” And I guess it is. But something about it, no, everything about it filled me with the squee inducing revulsion that only Cage seems to muster up in me. It kicks off with Cage as a hero cop, who saves a trapped criminal from drowning while ruining his $55 underpants. During the rescue, he injures his back and is prescribed Vicodin for the foreseeable future. After promotion to lieutenant, Terrence McDonagh heads up an investigation into the brutal murder of an African drug dealer and his family, aided by Val Kilmer’s kick-happy detective, McDonagh’s high class hooker girlfriend and a narcotics habit that would knock out Tom Sizemore at fifty paces. The film follows McDonagh’s descent into drug-crazed stupor and corrupt antics that have you doubting his abilities until the very last, while dealing with bookies, drug dealers, gangsters, club kids, and iguanas.
Nicolas Cage is totally on point in this movie, he starts out in wacky Cage mode and ends up somewhere in between Tony Clifton and a hopped up Columbo. His performance is a perfect reminder of why we loved him so much in films like Wild At Heart and Face/Off, the man can just play insane sociopathic anti-heroes with a sort of gusto that leaves you reeling in his ground-down teeth dust. Eva Mendes also plays the familiar role that she seems to be typecast in, the sexy siren with a heart of gold. I just don’t see it with Eva Mendes, there is something about her for sure, but it doesn’t hit me where it should. I feel as if she is a bit like a cinematic cold shower, a boner killer of the highest order. Val Kilmer chimes in with a small performance, but one that rivals his work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as his best work in years. I totally wanted to see more from him as the no-nonsense, violence loving detective stooge. The supposed Yin to Cage’s Yang. Xzibit plays a shotgun happy drug kingpin with a wry smile, which I thought was strange casting. X-to-tha-Z is such a likable cat that it confused the hell out of me and my cinematic principles. There is a scene when he discusses real estate while dumping a body into a river which is just incredible, I wouldn’t go as far as to say he was any sort of good actor but he oozes charisma and charm.
In fact, everyone slots into this movie like they were square pegs. Jennifer Coolidge drops the milf thing to play a alcoholic, and is totally believable. Brad Dourif works his subdued mojo as a bookie on the edge, even though he is looking really quite old. Even Jamie favourite, Michael Shannon pops up to gravel his way through a few sentences, much to my joy. I don’t who played the “oh yeahhh” gangster affiliated greaser guy, but he was a hoot! His scenes stood out like a funny haircut in a bowler hat convention.
Herzog and Cage work in tandem to bring this movie to life, Herzog shoots in tonnes of different styles ranging from circling steadycam shots to bizarre art house flourishes. As someone who isn’t overly familiar with his output, he seems like a low budget guy trapped in the big budget world. But it works. The shakycam close up scenes on iguanas, and other animals, tap you directly into McDonagh’s skewed psyche and though the scene is extended to breaking point, it never gets boring. I am definitely going to clue myself up on other Herzog stuff and I don’t know why I haven’t until now.