Posted by: greercn | May 26, 2010

Bad Lieutenant

Love him or loathe him, there is a special quality about Nicolas Cage.  He can be a ham actor like nobody since the magnificent Miss Piggy. Then, he does a picture in which he seems to have inhaled a little too much Marlon Brando. Sometimes, he pulls something really splendid out of a higher place and you get “Con Air”.

I am indifferent. I enjoyed “Knowing” a lot, because I like time travel as a theme and this was a slick take on that subject. Lukewarm on “Leaving Las Vegas”, I can see his strengths and weaknesses. I go on about this because what you will think about this movie depends largely on what you think of Nic Cage. It’s his flick. Me? I am entertained but not really moved, although I am usually a sucker for action movies and police stories.

As an admirer of Werner Herzog, I hoped his take on this story, with its annoying subtitle “Port Of Call, New Orleans” would make me forget the stylish and original 1992 “Bad Lieutenant”, directed by Abel Ferrara. Abel’s celluloid has never moved me as much as Werner’s. They had a war of words at Cannes about this remake, which Werner says I must not call a remake. Abel said Werner should “die in hell” while Werner said he had “no idea who Abel Ferrara is”. Ouch. They’re not going to direct together this year, are they?

The 1992 movie had Harvey Keitel. I think Harvey Keitel is one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen in my life. I go weak at the knees.  He is one of the very few actors who can make me forget, just for a little while, my beloved Clint Eastwood. Clint rocks my world, but Harvey is just magnificent in this film.  The 1992 movie is his tour de force, with Harvey doing full frontal nudity and – as if that’s not enough – a quote from John Milton to satisfy my intellectual longings. The plot brought new life to the good cop gone bad theme.

The curiously familar story which I must not call a remake  –  also co-written by Victor Argo – is moved to a post-Katrina New Orleans. Nic saves a guy’s life, but hurts himself doing so and starts a downward spiral into drug addiction, because of his back pain. He goes from being a good cop to – well, look at the title. There are standard set pieces about police turning bad that are dragged out, at the expense of creative vision. This is curious, as Herzog is usually one of the great originals on living in your increasingly problematic and isolated head.

One example of a scene that just doesn’t work for me is when Nic sees iguanas, but nobody else does. I just could not get “Harvey” out of my head. Eva Mendes is very pretty and I am not sure what Val Kilmer is doing spouting dull lines as a sidekick to Nic. I would have loved to have seen Val in the lead role, but he is out of favour with those casting action heroes these days. I don’t know why.

Fairuza Bank, once so wonderful as Dorothy in “Return To Oz” is good, but she is in a predictable role. Xzibit is a fine bad guy as Big Fate, but the whole, for me, doesn’t bring anything new to the story. There are some nice twists, but he seediness is slightly too shiny and pretty. The music isn’t as plot-driven as in the original and the whole is hygienic and clean. It’s just too glossy for me.

My cinema buddy for the evening absolutely loved it. He thought it was the best thing he had seen for a very long time. He went on and on about Nic. There are many people who warm to Nic. But it’s not just me, doubting. I know that for sure, because others have whispered to me that they loathe Nicolas Cage.

Go see it if you love Nic. If not, skip it and find the Harvey Keitel version. And go look at some stuffed iguanas while imagining having a nervous breakdown. Trust me, you will almost have been there.


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