It’s not often that you can say a noir with sex, drugs and guns has made you smile but Werner Herzog has described his Bad Lieutenant to be a tale of the “Bliss of Evil” and never before has being bad been so very, very funny.
Terrence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage)is a New Orleans Police Sergeant, post Hurricane Katrina. After briefly mocking a prisoner about to drown in lower level cells, McDonagh eventually jumps in to rescue him and as a result injures his back leading to a life long prescription for the pain.
McDonagh’s pain meds soon turn to something stronger than what the doctor prescribes and Terrence has to do whatever he can to feed his pain.
Call it retribution, Karma or payback, whatever it is this is the downward descent from being just a slightly crooked cop to a dirty rat trying not to drown in the sewer.
Herzog denies that this is a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, repeating that he hasn’t even seen the it.
For those in the dark Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant starred Harvey Keitel as a cop mired in Catholic guilt and finding solace ironically, in violent redemption.
Herzog mustn’t be lying because his story is not weighed down by faith, morals or guilt but in fact is a film that barrels through sin with such excitement and humour that it almost makes you want to be bad.
A roller coaster of sin and debauchery this dirty cop is not one to repent and Nicholas Cage’s wide eyed, plastic face moulds perfectly for the freewheeling Terrance as he parades across the screen.
Taking a swipe at morality Herzog’s Lieutenant makes light of steely situations from stealing colleague’s nude pictures of their wife to removing the oxygen tube from one old lady to make another old lady talk these are situations that don’t ordinarily get a laugh but somehow I wasn’t the only one guffawing with delight.
Black comedy is a far cry from Ferrara’s original tale but the amoral, shameless behaviour of this protagonist is clearly accepted if the ripple of laughter received from an audience is anything to go by.
With a manic and fearless performance from Cage he outshines his supporting cast including: Val Kilmer as McDonagh’s murderous partner; Fairuza Balk as his kinky highway-patrolwoman ex; and even Eva Mendes as his coke snorting tart with a heart girlfriend.
Each star turn left in the shade reminds us that Nic can act, even if it’s just the mentally unstable characters, there’s a market for him.
Between the reptilian injections of crazy and moments of startling honesty and tenderness, Herzog has pulled off an enjoyable film that won’t set the world on fire but will distract you from the pain for a few hours.