Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nick's Un Caged Fury

(Dir. Werner Herzog, 2009)

So is this a remake? A re-imagining? 

Is it connected to Abel Ferrara's 1992 corrupt cop cult classic in any way than the title? The answer is that it is, and it isn't. Both films concern a police detective summed up by the first film's tagline: "Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop." 

Herzog claims that he never saw the '92 version, and that the title is a marketing ploy. 

Whatever the Hell it is, this is for certain: It's a weird wild ride through the cracked psyche of, well, a very bad lieutenant and it's Nicholas Cage's best work in nearly a decade. Unlike Harvey Keitel's character in Ferrara's film, only credited as "The Lieutenant," Cage is given a name: Terrence McDonaugh.

He is also given a new location - post Katrina New Orleans. His first case after being promoted involves the brutal slaying of five Senegalese immigrants. He follows the leads sometimes with his partner Val Kilmer, but mostly alone abusing his power at every opportunity, shaking down almost everybody for drugs and seeing iguanas and alligators that aren't there in light fractured shots that are as disturbing as they are wickedly funny. 

Take away the crazy Cage character and this would be a routine cop drama going from one witness to another on the trail of the killer, but this is completely about the crazy Cage character with the plot a hazy afterthought. You wouldn't expect or want a standard cop thriller from Herzog, but this doesn't exactly qualify as a genre deconstruction either - it's more like genre destruction. 

There are no high speed chases or violent fist fights and when the story circles back on itself in the last reel it feels surreal - a satire of dream logic almost. 

Though Kilmer barely registers in a walk through of a role there is a strong supporting cast aiding Cage. Eve Mendes (a former Cage costar in GHOST RIDER) is on hand as Cage's strung out hooker girlfriend, Brad Dourif puts in a sharp turn as a cranky bookie, and Jennifer Coolidge (Stiffler's Mom!) has an uncharacteristic part as Cage's father's (Tom Bower) partner. Also look for Michael Shannon, Fairuza Balk, and Xzibit as a drug kingpin aptly named "Big Fate" if you can actually take your eyes off Cage. 

Cage's outrageously off kilter performance fills the screen with kinetic energy that wonderfully erases the horrible memories of such dreck as the NATIONAL TREASURE movies and the other crappy commercial fare that has plagued his career of late. It's a gutsy gripping piece of acting that made me giggle throughout. He takes hits from what he calls his "lucky crack pipe" and spouts such baffling bat-shit insane phrases as "I'll kill all of you. To the break of dawn. To the break of dawn, baby!" 

Cage engages in the kind of sordid behavior that makes Harvey Keitel's take on the character look positively subdued. 

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS (a horrible title whatever its reasoning) is an intoxicating surprise, but I'm sure it'll rub many moviegoers wrong. 

It makes no apologies and has no moralistic message so it really stands out in this otherwise saccharin season. It's an unruly and unhinged work by a master of obsessed cinema. It's an experience that will linger long after like a vivid nightmare and while that might not sound like a recommendation - believe me it is.

More later...

No comments: