(2009) Crime Drama (First Look) Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Xzibit, Denzel Whitaker, Brad Dourif, Shea Wigham, Katie Chonacas, Michael Shannon, Tom Bower. Directed by Werner Herzog
An out-of-control drug-addled policeman taking on crime in his own corrupt way, desensitized to violence and seemingly without any moral compass whatsoever. Sound familiar?
First of all, this movie has nothing to do with the classic Abel Ferrara film The Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Keitel back in 1992. This movie shares only a producer with the original. There are some thematic similarities but that’s about it. The first film is amazing and powerful; this one is going to suffer by comparison – so I’m not going to compare the two, only to say that those coming in looking for a sequel, a remake or a reboot are going to be confused at best, angry at worst and disappointed for certain.
Lt. Terence McDonagh (Cage) is a decorated member of the New Orleans Police Department. He injured his back rescuing a prisoner from the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. Hooked on vicodin for the pain, he graduates to bigger and better drugs.
He is in love with Frankie (Mendes), a prostitute who is a fellow junkie. He is not above rousting a pair of clubgoers leaving a nightclub, stealing their drugs and raping the girl – while her boyfriend watches. His only worry is avoiding detection from his partner Steve Pruit (Kilmer) and the evidence locker supervisor Mundt (Shannon). The only law he seems intent on enforcing is the law of looking out for number one.
Then he is assigned the case of the execution of an entire family of immigrants and discovers the father was involved in drug dealing. We also discover that a vicious drug kingpin named Big Fate (Xzibit) is responsible. McDonagh, growing more and more paranoid, hooks up with Big Fate not only to bring himself a whole new supply of drugs but to get to the bottom of the killings. The further in he gets, the more dangerous the game he plays becomes to himself and those around him.
Director Werner Herzog knows a thing or two about obsession. The director of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man is fascinated by characters that live on the edge of madness, and often die on that edge. He and Nicolas Cage are a match made in…maybe not heaven, but in purgatory at least.
Cage is an Oscar winning actor who has always specialized in characters out there on that edge. Of late he has done a lot of movies that are best forgotten; still, he is capable of busting out with some great performances. He is right there on the ragged edge here and at times he overacts shamelessly, which can be a turn-off.
Then again, this kind of role really does call for it. McDonagh hallucinates about iguanas and snarls after Big Fate and his crew shoot someone dead “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” Only Cage could pull off a line like that.
Kilmer is another actor who often takes on quirky roles and has of late been relegated to a lot of direct-to-home video disasters. It’s nice to see him in a movie that actually got a theatrical release; hopefully more casting directors will take notice of him, although I’m not sure his performance here will get that for him – the role is pretty bland.
This is the kind of movie that makes you feel like you’ve just gone for a swim in the sewer, only in a good way. It shows the corruption and seediness that is rampant around the drug trade. It’s a shame they had to unnecessarily throw the Bad Lieutenant association in – the movie I think would have benefitted from a better title (this one is really bad and may have actually kept moviegoers away). It at least has the distinction of being one of Cage’s better movies of the last decade, although I’m becoming more enamored of Herzog as a documentarian than as a filmmaker.
WHY RENT THIS: You get a great sense of a life spiraling out of control.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cage overacts shamelessly. The corruption is so pervasive that you feel like you need a shower after watching the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of bad language, even more drug use, a goodly amount of violence and just for good measure, let’s throw in a little sex on top.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicolas Cage is actually snorting baby powder during the cocaine scenes.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.6M on a $25M production budget; this was a box office flop.
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
TOMORROW: A History of Violence