Oh dear. If this was released as a made-for-TV murder thriller it might have enjoyed a lukewarm welcome. Putting the words Bad Lieutenant in the title raised the expectations hugely and those come crashing down within the first 10 minutes. Any resemblance to the 1992 Abel Ferrera classic, starring the incomparable Harvey Keitel, is purely coincidental.
No-one can compete with Keitels intense, visceral performance least of all, old horse-face himself, Nic Cage. What was once a fine actor has become a laughable collection of nervous tics, shouting and staring. The only thing his Lieutenant McDonagh has in common with Keitels original is a penchant for drugs, casual sex with women he pulls over for possession and trying to get his relatives off traffic charges. Ferreras film was a deep look at revenge the nun who is raped by a gang forgives her attackers, Keitels cop cannot do so, so theres a moral framework there. This has no such debate going on, merely a murder being investigated by a slightly unhinged cop.
After suffering a back injury early on, Cage decides to walk without using his arms, and by the time he gets seriously into hard drugs, a showroom dummy would have more movement. When he starts hallucinating, seeing two iguanas on a table during a stakeout, its difficult not to laugh.
The plot is a standard murder investigation. Five people are executed in what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong, and McDonagh, assisted by officer Pruit (Kilmer), are determined to find the killer even if it involves bribery and corruption. McDonaghs girlfriend Frankie (Mendes) is a drug-addicted hooker, not that he seems to mind maybe because she is about as animated as he is. When they try and go straight though, the plot really starts to unravel.
In a 2008 interview, Ferrara said that finding out his movie was being remade was “a horrible feeling… like when you get robbed”, and that those involved in this remake “should all die in hell”. He also wondered how Nicolas Cage “can even have the nerve to play Harvey Keitel”, and called screenwriter William M. Finkelstein an idiot. After a scene in which Cage threatens two old ladies with a gun and shouts, Youre the reason this country is going down the drain, its hard not to agree.
However, during its early production, director Werner Herzog claimed that this was not a remake. He said he has never seen the original and therefore does not consider this a do-over. And in truth, the producers do seem to have added Bad Lieutenant to the title in order to get better marketing, as it has little to do with the original (at its ditched the ugly Port Of Call New Orleans subtitle it had in the State). In the end it will backfire, as the plot lurches from one ludicrous scene to the next and Cage stumbles around like a pub drunk, Ferreras film seems a long way away.
Perhaps the biggest travesty though is Herzogs input this is a man who made some of the most haunting, strange and amazing cinema in Europe, now apparently reduced to churning out overheated cop dramas.
Overall verdict: A travesty, pure and simple.
Reviewer: Mike Martin