Monday, February 14, 2011

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

I often hesitate before recommending a Werner Herzog film, if only because he is so assertive about going his own way. He doesn't make films to please you, but himself--which I always admire; but you have to be willing to hop on board--often while the train's moving, jump in the boxcar, pray you don't stumble--and hang on tight.

But I can never resist him--even when at first blush I hesitate, as with The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. I'm reminded of my initial uncertainty about the Coens' remake of True Grit: Is this trip really necessary? Then I saw the trailer--I was so skeptical I broke one of my rules: Never watch the trailer if you admire the director; save all the fun for the movie itself. But I checked it out, and had to admit that remakes can be worthwhile after all.

But Herzog's Bad Lieutenant is only peripherally similar to Abel Ferrara's film, in which he and Harvey Keitel get medieval on our asses for an hour and a half--certain our souls need a good roto-rootering--and grimly go about their work. Yes, Herzog's movie is scary and weird--but in a giddy sort of way, veering from one piece of puzzling evidence to another, a cop movie turned into a bizarre pinata, with everyone taking a wild swing at it.

I'll leave the plot to you. For me, the real feature--aside from Herzog's trademark insanity--is Nicolas Cage, standing up and reminding us how crazy-good he is, past all expectations otherwise lowered by his comic-book/action-hero poses, still willing to invite us to his happening, freaking us all out. Have fun, kiddies.

Companion piece: a second Herzog cop movie, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, in which Michael Shannon takes his turn at bat, and smacks the ump a good one, then runs the bases backwards, and moons the Commissioner, and tears off all his clothes, and so on. Cage has a not-so-evil twin.

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