26 November 2009 | dfranzen70
So-so, ultimately pointless
This nominal remake to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 original isn’t bad, and it’s not really good, either. Nicolas Cage stars as the titular cop who doesn’t so much as bend the law as stomp it flat in his quest to do whatever. Cage isn’t terrible, but even his unhinged charisma isn’t quite edgy enough and feels one dimensional. Even the nihilism of Harvey Keitel’s character in the earlier film had more of a point than this uneven drama.
Terence McDonagh is a detective in New Orleans. We pick up his story shortly after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina; in an early scene, he and his partner (Val Kilmer) joke about saving or not saving a prisoner in a cell in which the water level has risen past the man’s head. As the criminal desperately treads water, McDonagh takes odds on his survival before the firemen come to rescue him.
As before, our protagonist is investigating a crime. A family of five has been shot, execution style, in their home. McDonagh must, of course, pull out all the stops to solve the crime and thus get more power and money and keep his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) in nice clothes and a high-class hotel. He also has a serious drug habit, shaking down clubgoers in exchange for not busting them for whatever it is they didn’t do. McDonagh also has to deal with his father, a recovering alkie, and his father’s girlfriend (Jennifer Coolidge) a current alkie, who live out in the middle of the bayou.
But where Ferrara’s movie pushed the envelope and strained our sense of good taste, Werner Herzog’s alleged remake seems too straightforward. McDonagh is just another dirty cop who breaks the rules to get what he wants. In the 17 years between films, we’ve all seen countless movies about dirty cops, and Cage’s McDonagh seems no better or worse than any of them. Keitel’s unnamed lieutenant desecrated churches and pranced about in a naked, drunken stupor, but Cage’s cop can’t summon up the cojones to do anything that wild and crazy. Or maybe it’s just that we’re all so numb to outlandish on screen behavior that there’s not much that Cage and Herzog could have done to shock and awe us.
It’s worth noting that Ferrara, when asked about Herzog’s upcoming film, didn’t have much nice to say about it; Herzog also stated in interviews that he didn’t feel that his movie was a remake of Ferrara’s, despite the title, because he (Herzog) had not seen the original. (Well, you can’t fault that logic, right?) I just didn’t find anything horrible about this movie, nothing that makes me really dislike it. But I also didn’t find it wildly entertaining. It has its adrenaline moments, and the cast tries, but it’s just an ineffective film. It’s fun to see Val Kilmer, though, and Mendes looks great.
The trouble with this movie is that the connection to the original is tenuous at best; it sort of feels like the Bad Lieutenant part was tacked on in an effort to sell more tickets. Nah, that’s unpossible. Hollywood would never use familiarity to make more money, right? Cage is going to have to do far more of these to pay off his tax bill.