Tuesday, April 13, 2010


He has his bad days

By Edward Copeland
When I heard that Werner Herzog was doing a "reimagining" of Abel Ferrara's over-the-top 1992 Harvey Keitel vehicle Bad Lieutenant starring Nicolas Cage, the last adjective I thought would enter my mind when watching it would be the one that did: conventional.

Actually, that adjective only applies to the first hour or so of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans, but even with a glorious cinematic madman such as Herzog at the helm and an actor with a penchant for extremes such as Cage in the lead, this take doesn't come close to touching the 1992 version, which I was never that big a fan of to begin with.

This version is set "in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," though it's hard to see why since aside from the opening scene where Cage's Terence McDonagh saves an inmate from a flooding jail cell and severely injures his back, it never comes up as an issue again and very little of the places the film takes place in shows signs of the disaster. It seemed particularly odd to me coming so soon after I had just watched the first three episodes of the great new HBO series Treme, which begins in New Orleans three months after Katrina.

McDonagh's heroism not only leaves him with a lifetime of back pain but earns him a promotion to lieutenant and the cravings for any sort of drug that might make the pain go away, though it seems more likely that he prefers the crack, cocaine, heroin, pot and pills just so he can act crazy as the film requires and up the ante on his gambling addiction.

While I wasn't a huge fan of Ferrara's earlier film, what made that film more worthwhile, other than Keitel's fearlessness in his go-for-broke performance, is that Keitel's bad cop started out corrupt, drug addicted and a gambling fiend. However, that film's central case, the brutal rape of young nun in a church sparks Keitel's character on a journey not only to solve her case but to seek his own redemption.

In The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans, the central case of the drug-related slayings of an immigrant family plays almost as an afterthought, an excuse just so McDonagh can run wild through various encounters with lowlifes and power brokers while trying to protect his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes). The ridiculous ending, where somehow he bungles into solving all his problems, makes it all the more ridiculous. Cage certainly can be entertaining in the film at times, but it all adds up to a big case of "What's the point?"

The film also manages to wastes the talents of Brad Dourif as a bookie, Jennifer Coolidge as Cage's stepmom and Val Kilmer in a truly thankless role that does little more than present more evidence that his reputation of being such a pariah to work with has made him have to settle for thankless roles such as this.

Not only did this film need not be made, it is a true disappointment coming from a director of the caliber of Werner Herzog. As I sat through this, all I could picture in my head was a vulnerable, nude Harvey Keitel, arms outstretched, walking toward the camera in tears. Its not an image I particularly wanted to have, but I could relate to why he was crying.

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Thank goodness I'm not the only one who deeply disliked Herzog's version. And frankly, I thought Cage was insufferable. His "best work in years," as some have claimed? If "best work" means "most campy and over-the-top," then I suppose yeah, it is. But as you suggest: So what?
I thought it was rather pointless. I can like Cage but many of his over-the-top performances that people praise such as this or Vampire's Kiss are just nails on a chalkboard to me. What really got to me was why they needed to set it in the aftermath of Katrina when it had absolutely nothing to do with the movie past the first few minutes.
Thank you, thank you. I can't believe this aggressively dumb movie is so acclaimed.
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