Directed by: Werner Herzog » Written by: William Finkelstein » Based on the Film Bad Lieutenant by: Victor Argo & Paul Calderon & Abel Ferrara & Zoë Lund, 2009 » Region/Time: U.S.A., 121 minutes.

Starring: Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh » Eva Mendes as Frankie Donnenfeld » Val Kilmer as Stevie Pruit » Xzibit as Big Fate » Jennifer Coolidge as Genevieve » Irma P. Hall as Binnie Rogers » Brad Dourif as Ned Schoenholtz » Fairuza Balk as Heidi » Michael Shannon as Mundt.

This movie is far more enjoyable than it has any right to be. In this remake (in concept only) of Abel Ferrara’s 1993 film Bad Lieutenant, Nicolas Cage plays Lt. Terence McDonagh in a rampaging, scene-stealing, scenery-chewing performance of wild glee. It is also German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s most recent attempt to break into the mainstream. In the past few years, both Rescue Dawn and Grizzly Man have shown he has taken his strengths from the 1970s (Aguirre, Wrath of God, Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo) and married them to modern Hollywood filmmaking. The results are never less than interesting. Bad Lieutenant is no different.

The film is set in New Orleans and begins during the flooding post-Katrina. McDonagh saves a prisoner from drowning and, in the process, gives himself chronic low back pain. For the remainder of the movie, Lt. McDonagh takes all manner of sex and drugs – opioids, alcohol, amphetamines, hallucinogens, sedatives and copious amounts of cocaine – in an effort to numb the pain, or, at least, block out the sensations. In the meanwhile, he must solve the murder of a family by a drug cartel and clear his debt at the hands of the local bookie.

While supporting players, such as Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge and Xzibit, invest the film with well-chosen, colourful moments, it is Nicolas Cage and, to a lesser extent, Eva Mendes, who really sell the film. Mendes plays the stereo-typed hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold as a steel spine wrapped with surprising vulnerability. Cage plays McDonagh as raving lunatic with a plan.

It is worth watching this movie just to see what insane antics the lead character gets up to. While I would never recommend something illegal, if you were to bring a flask of whisky to the cinema, you would have to be carried out of the theatre if you had a drink every time Lt. McDonagh breaks the law, a drink every time he consumes some kind of drug, a drink for every time he harasses an innocent person and several drinks every time there is a point-of-view shot from an iguana or alligator.

Seriously.

There are shots from the point of view of iguanas. They are not really there for any reason, but Lt. McDonagh does give them quite a distrustful look for the duration of the scene.

Finally, I should add that, in addition to reminding me how awesome Nicolas Cage can be (see Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona and Adaptation), Val Kilmer steals the show in every scene he is in. I would love to see a parallel-sequel to this movie where we see everything that Stevie Pruit gets up to while the movie takes place.

If Werner Herzog’s new movie, Bad Lieutenant, is playing at a theatre near you, I strongly recommend you go.  [ END ]