Six months ago in New Orleans, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, cop Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) was over at a police station with his partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) checking out a colleague's abandoned locker when they heard someone calling out from the cells. They went to investigate, only to find that there was a criminal still in one of them, and the flood waters were rising, causing him to panic. The two cops joked about this predicament, but then Terence had a pang of conscience and jumped into the water to save him, which he did, but also suffered a back injury...
When Abel Ferrara, who directed the original Bad Lieutenant back in the early nineties, heard about this remake he was sickened and openly criticised the filmmakers for what he saw as a grievous insult to his cult classic. Film buffs were torn between respecting his opinions, because the first one was one of the finest movies he ever made, and looking forward to this reboot because the man directing it was Werner Herzog, who if anything was even cultier than Ferrara. Herzog countered his claims by telling all who wished to hear that this was not a remake after all, and may even have adopted the Bad Lieutenant title for publicity reasons.
Watching it, that excuse doesn't really fly, as William Finkelstein's script was obviously inspired by the original as it featured the same basic plot points, nun rape aside, and the theme of a corrupt man facing redemption, though not quite as dramatically as Harvey Keitel had in that work. What was missing was the overt religious preoccupation, which left this second one looking more akin to the big screen version of that endless stream of TV crime shows, where such concerns were less likely to bother the audience. Indeed, aside from a handful of idiosyncratic touches, you would be forgiven for not knowing this was a Herzog movie at all, as it resembled a job for hire rather than displaying the director's authorial stamp.
What was strange was fans of Herzog and Cage had been excited about the prospect of seeing them work together, but after watching the end product were convinced that it had lived up to their expectations and was one of the craziest movies of the year. Certainly there were aspects that no other director-star combination would have come up with, but this was far from the wacko masterwork of its reputation. For a start, something like that really needed a pacier, punchier presentation than the langorous approach we got here - it moved at a snail's pace, with a plot involving Terence trying to solve a mass murder case with echoes of James Ellroy, but not enough to be truly gripping.
Cage by this stage in his career was enjoying the esteem of being one of the oddest actors around, but time and again his films - often would-be action blockbusters, with a genre flavour - would flirt with with winding him up and letting him go on the over the top setpieces, but proved inconsistent in actually doing so. If anyone could bring out the best in the star you would have thought it would be Herzog, but Cage acts in a vacuum here, gradually getting more on edge as his debts mount up and his hooker girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) gets into more trouble, and apparently believing that he could convey this fragile state of mind by laughing a lot. Alas, the rest of the film feels so numb that it was as if we had your average bent cop drama that occasionally allowed a spot of the bizarre to emerge, to add personality but leaving the end result not much of anything. Even the redemption is left to be brought out in a coda, with the rest of this Bad Lieutenant a shapeless, sluggish disappointment. Music by Mark Isham.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.