Let's assume that you hated all those high-falutin' moral conundrums
and ethical choices which faced Harvey Keitel in the original version of
Bad Lieutenant, making the film a real downer. You just wanted the film to
be a fun, over-the-top entertainment film about a blatantly bad cop and
his relationship with his superiors, his bookie, his hooker girlfriend,
the mob, the local drug lords, and the people he's supposed to protect.
Well, I have the film for you: the new improved Nic Cage version of Bad
Lieutenant, or BL as I like to call him.
Director Werner Herzog took this film in some strange directions.
Stylistically, he chose to film some of it from the POV of an omniscient,
objective camera eye and some of it from the POV of a total crackhead, and
he did not choose to be very clear about exactly when he was making the
transition from one to another. That is to say that the viewer often
really doesn't know what's real and what is a product of BL's drug-induced
hallucinations. The film's eccentricity doesn't stop with its offbeat
narrative style (including a Letterman-style Gator Cam). The plot and tone
shifts are equally outlandish. About twenty minutes before the end of the
film, BL's problems seem to be inescapable. The mob wants him dead. The
internal affairs guys are closing in on him. He gets caught browbeating a
congressman's granny. His bookie is about to turn him over to the usual
rough collection process. The All-American who is supposed to shave points
for him is held out of a key game. His girlfriend is close to death from
her heroin addiction. He has bungled a key investigation. And then,
miraculously, all of those crises are resolved in the most favorable ways
possible, and he gets promoted to Bad Captain!
Does he learn from his good fortune? Think about it. Do we ever really
learn a lesson when we fuck everything up but luck out with a positive
result? Not very often. Most of the time, we just think we have everything
under control, or that we are truly earning positive results with our own
sterling efforts. Since those efforts produced favorable results in the
past, we are more likely to repeat them than to change our ways. In this
regard, BL is a lot like the rest of us, or at least like what we would be
if we were played by Nic Cage.
Is this entire film actually a parody of the original Bad Lieutenant,
or of "bad cop" movies in general? Beats me. I do know that it's an oddly
appealing film. Werner Herzog goes Tarantino on us, with surprisingly
watchable results. It's like watching Shaq play volleyball in that "Shaq
Vs." show. It's not always very good, and it can look really awkward, but
it's utterly unpredictable and usually fun to watch.