Right, so last Saturday–and literally minutes after a friend left my house at midnight (we had Indian for dinner and watched ‘The Soloist,’ which I disliked just as much the second time around, for the same reason I disliked ‘Forrest Gump’–I jumped in a taxi and traveled from Chelsea to Greenwich Village where my favorite theatre, the Angelika Film Center, is located. The popcorn is usually fresh and there’s a full-service cafe as well. According to the marquee I had the choice between Pirate Radio and Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans, among other films. Even though the trailer for Pirate Radio looked great, I’ve heard some people say that the film existed merely as a justification for the rock’n’roll sound track. Can you say Aouch? Still want to see this some day, though. So Bad Lieutenant was my pick that night, even though it was showing in my least favorite room at the Angelika, ie, Theatre number 6 under the stairs. I like my movie theatre to be very large, which is why I never shy away from giant multiplexes (an arthouse snob I am not).
This Bad Lieutenant, a remake of the Abel Ferrara original which starred Harvey Keitel (and which I saw so long ago, I could use a refresher) came out of nowhere, it seems. I did not see any previews for it, there was no protracted mating dance with moviegoers. But Werner Herzog can be very unpredictable like that. He’s a little strange, too, I think, although I never met him (Kinsky rubbed off on him a little). I remember seeing him in a scene in a Harmony Korine’s film in which he is flying in a plane full of nuns. Do with this information what you will. Anyway, for his remake Herzog got Nicolas Cage to act the main character, a New Orleans cop with a conscience who goes bad, just a little.
Terence McDonagh (Cage) hurts his back trying to save someone and earns a script for the painkiller oxycontin for his troubles. From the knowing chuckles in the audience in theatre no. 6 it was clear that something sinister was afoot and these white pills would soon become our cop’s downfall. From here on, McDonagh pops, smokes and snorts his way around a fog-battered, post-Katrina New Orleans where bad guys dress smarter than detectives and a big murder investigation he’s heading is growing colder by the minute. McDonagh’s supposed nemesis (and suspected killer) is Big Fate, played with bravado by rapper Xzibit (this gentleman’s nuanced performance puts Didee to shame—when will someone tell him the truth?). But as McDonagh’s key witness bails, it’s all nemesis shmenesis from here on end. Donagh hops in bed with Fate like the nice crooked cop that he is and it’s open season for drug dealing in New Orleans.
Throughout this strange little movie Herzog’s demented sense of humor insinuates itself via the strategic use of … iguanas (or lizards, or whatever you call these things–I live in Manhattan, what do I know about these things?) In my favorite scene of the film, Herzog lenses the inside of a police stakeout from the perspective of a couple of iguanas lounging on a table. They stare and smile and then lip-synch an oldie to a McDonagh whose face, contorted by the lack of sleep and too much white powder, belies a helpless frustration. The effect is hilarious and strange (my favorite kind of funny, and for once I’m pretty sure the laughing among the audience was completely intended by the filmmaker.But, seriously, If there’s one thing that really takes this movie down, it’s the cinematography.
The whole film is plastered with a haggard white light which makes every other scene look like fakery. The only thing that gets this Bad Lieutenant going is, like the original, its protagonist. Cage, in spite of his increasingly odd-looking hairdo, still has some charisma even when portraying a broken-down cop with a bad back. I just wonder how the film would have fared in someone else’s hands. Anyway, thank God movie theatres are opened late in New York City.