"Warning: The following programme contains images that some viewers may find disturbing.” And that’s just the Making Of. Seriously. Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is a movie so tripped-out wacky it deserves instant cult status.
Just the idea is plain bonkers. Who thought remaking Abel Ferrara’s infamous crack-smoking cop flick from 1992 was a smart move? (Certainly not Abel, who spat that everyone involved should “die in hell”.)
And let’s not even get into the iguanas singing Tom Jones, or the off-the-wall moment where Nicolas Cage’s drugged-up New Orleans lieutenant, arriving at the scene of a road accident involving a dead alligator, is watched by its mate in low-def croc-o-vision.
What’s up with the reptile mania? Don’t ask. Just bask in the glory of having Cage finally back on form. In the opening scene, his character Terence McDonagh fubars his spine rescuing a con from a post- Katrina flooded prisonhouse.
Thereafter, Cage channels all his energy into his face rather than this crippled body, and then lets rip. No Keitel-esque, shouting-at-Jesus Method acting here, just a wild-eyed actor playing to the gallery.
Cage’s performance is the film’s get out of jail card. And boy, does Bad Lieutenant need him.
Even on its own terms, the movie is a wounded duck, episodic scenes stitched together by thriller procedural clichés that director Werner Herzog, the provocateur behind mad masterpieces from Aguirre, Wrath Of God to Grizzly Man, clearly couldn’t give a toss about.
Instead he turns in an eccentric, grotesque, hodgepodge parody of a cop movie, as Cage tortures senior citizens, toots rocks with pushers (“You mean you don’t have a lucky crack pipe?”) and sees the breakdancing souls of dead bad guys.
For Herzog it’s a chance to translate his off-the-wall sensibilities to a bigger, starrier canvas, but his hardcore fans may wonder if he’s just marking time, amusing himself with a playful diversion.
Still, it’s hugely refreshing to see big-name actors like Cage, Val Kilmer and Eva Mendes grapple with something so completely off the beaten track. In other hands, the script could’ve been a watered-down Xerox of the original.
Herzog’s touch turns it into a Xerox that’s been translated in Urdu, faxed to China, stomped on, shredded, then glued back together by blind Spanish nuns with a penchant for singing reptiles.
Is it actually any good? Who knows? Who cares? It’s simply a force of nature. Oh, and the “disturbing images” in the Making Of? Two words: alligator guts. You have been, well, warned…