Take Nick Cage, an actor with more ups and downs than a manic-depressive yo-yo, throw him together with acclaimed directer Werner Herzog (Stroszeck, Grizzly Man) and Xzibit (yes, that Xzibit) and make a formulaic cop drama. That’s the crack-crazed premise of Bad Lieutenant.
It’s easy to see how this film got commissioned. Put so many ‘star’ names together in one place and you’re guaranteed to recoup your costs back on DVD just because of the names. It’s a paint by numbers affair — only the cast deliver us a Jackson Pollock. Given a blank canvas (or possibly a blank cheque) to go nuts with, they do.
Remember Police Squad? How about The Naked Gun? Yup, I’m really gonna compare this film to those masterpieces of deadpan (if rather unsubtle) humour. The Naked Gun may not have aged well, but it was brilliantly subversive in its own time. Herzog has picked up the torch and run with it, setting fire to every cop movie cliche in the process. Everything is bizarre, twisted and out of joint. This film follows, then breaks, every cop show convention.
Cage is a dirty cop sniffing, snorting, smoking and pill-popping his way through a murder investigation. He’s quite literally so bad, he’s good. But the real genius of this film is that it’s only about half an hour through (about the time when you see Cage hallucinate singing lizards) that you realise you’re in the middle of a comedy.
Then suddenly, all becomes clear. Cage is wielding a gun longer than his arm. He’s walking with a hunchback. He has a hooker girlfriend and a lucky crack pipe. And a dog. Suddenly, you realise you’re in the thick of one of the best comedies of the last decade.
Bad Lieutenant is brilliantly subversive and worth of classic subvert-the-genre films such as Robert Altman’s take on Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye (1973) — if you can’t stomach the Leslie Nielsen comparisons. It’s an instant cult classic, with off-the-wall humour reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, eminently quotable, infinitely re-watchable. A movie to treasure over and over again.
Take time out to watch Cage, Herzog and, of course, Xzibit, stick two fingers up to the film-making establishment. I don’t want to spoil any more surprises for you. Just go and buy this film and a bucketload of popcorn and prepare to be amazed.