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Bad Lieutenant Review & The Cult Classics Werner Herzog Should Remake Next
Stephen Dalton , May 21st, 2010 06:27

Nicholas Cage directed by Herzog in a remake of Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant? Stephen Dalton is not amused, but finds time to come up with five other films ripe for treatment by the German director

Check the weather forecast: is hell freezing over? That seems about more likely than Werner Herzog directing Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a gloriously demented quasi-remake from the battle-hardened existential warrior who once epitomised the scowlingly serious Taliban wing of German cinema's 1970s New Wave. Over the last two decades, Herzog has become much better known for his unflinching documentaries about the cruel extremes of nature, which only makes this clumsily-titled cop thriller an even more bizarre and fascinating experiment.

But an experiment in what, exactly? Deranged kitsch? Surreal slapstick? Brazen commercial sell-out? Bad Lieutenant may be many things, but it hardly qualifies as good entertainment by most earthly norms. Taking over Harvey Keitel's role as a monstrously corrupt detective, Nicolas Cage performs with his customary restraint, barking his lines in full-throttle, overcooked, Elvis-in-Vegas overdrive. Herzog must have been too disinterested to curb his star's boggle-eyed excesses, or simply too busy capturing the hallucinatory shots of lizards and alligators which supply the film's most enjoyable asides.

Ferrara has greeted the remake with characteristic wit and charm, suggesting everyone involved should "die in hell". Herzog responded by claiming he has never even seen Ferrara's 1992 original, which stars Keitel as a crooked New York City cop haunted by Catholic guilt during a squalid slide into sex, sin and drug addiction. This is the sort of misery-porn marathon that a certain kind of male movie critic likes to label "fearless", "gritty" or even "transgressive". Translation: one of the most overrated films ever, a swirling cesspool of testosterone-pumped Method un-acting and masturbatory narcissism. Worst of all, it's monumentally boring.

Herzog enjoys a much more inflated reputation than Ferrara among serious cineastes, even though he has arguably been coasting on empty for even longer. The popular folklore around the granite-faced German is that he is a stoical outsider drawn to physical and mental extremes, forever pushing himself and his cast to breaking point in some noble quest for "ecstatic truth". Herzog himself has been milking this man-of-iron shtick for years, a Nietzschean pose reinforced when an air rifle bullet struck him on camera during a BBC interview in 2005. Good publicity moves in mysterious ways.

In truth, Herzog's shopworn legend as cinema's Last Real Man rests mainly on his five fiery collaborations with the volcanic-tempered Klaus Kinski in the 1970s and 1980s, during which director and star famously exchanged death threats in a variety of hostile jungle locations. But since Kinski's death in 1991, Herzog's stock of self-dramatising anecdotes has shrunk, meaning his increasingly pedestrian films have had to stand on their own sketchy merits. Taking on a Hollywood-style remake merely exposes his overpraised docu-realist aesthetic as flat, lazy and televisual. Bad Lieutenant looks grubby and amateurish, like bad 1970s porn.

But at least, in working with Cage, Herzog may have belatedly found his Kinski replacement. Indulging his overcooked ham tendencies to the max, the star delivers every line in Bad Lieutenant with the dazed, glazed demeanour of a man who just been whacked in the face with a heavy wooden plank. Manhandling the language, barely making sense at all, Cage has finally graduated beyond the Christopher Walken and Gary Oldman league of shameless scenery-chewers. He's rolling with the big dogs now, William Shatner style. Respect.

Ironically, Cage actually salvages Bad Lieutenant from the jaws of stultifying tedium with his weirdly compelling, eye-rolling, slow-motion car crash of a performance. Without him, this would just be a weakly plotted, boringly shot, cliché-clogged, production-line cop-movie spiced with mildly trippy visual flourishes to placate film critics. But thanks to the Elvis of kick-ass action comedy, impervious to irony, dancing to his own crazed inner rhythm, Herzog looks set to enjoy his biggest hit in years.

Shame his film is such godawful trash.

Five More Cult Classics That Werner Herzog Could Remake

When Harry Met Sally (2011)

Herzog's first venture into mainstream romantic comedy meets with mixed reviews, especially the extreme close-ups of rectal bleeding. Backstage tensions arise when co-star Meg Ryan learns lunch breaks are "not permissible" and any attempt to leave the set will trigger a murder-suicide shooting spree by the director. Doh! Those ker-azy Germans.

High School Musical (2012)

A controversial choice to reboot Disney's billion-dollar tweenie franchise, Herzog wraps up the series on an unusually sombre note as wholesome singing sensation Zac Efron is raped and dismembered by grizzly bears. In real life. "Gaze upon the blood-smeared jaws of an unremittingly hostile universe," the director tells a test screening of weeping schoolchildren.

Kes (2013)

Herzog relocates Ken Loach's bittersweet kitchen-sink classic from Sheffield to the Amazon rainforest, swapping its sensitive schoolboy hero for a deranged visionary adventurer obsessed with constructing a vast jungle bird sanctuary. Alas, they peck him to death. "Birds are base and vile creatures," the director explains, "they shit in the water tank of our souls."

Wallace And Gromit In The Wrong Trousers (2014)

In a subtle change to the original, Aardman's loveable animated duo become victims of ruthless Darwinian logic when a wily penguin inexplicably blessed with superior engineering skills moves into their house. Then kills and eats them, obviously. Gromit is played by an emotionally disturbed dwarf who Herzog discovered sleeping in a skip.

Nosferatu: Port Of Call Kentish Town (2015)

Herzog remakes his own remake about a tormented vampire condemned to eternal despair and loneliness, but this time as a knockabout horror-movie spoof set in modern-day North London. Chirpy Britcom star Simon Pegg reprises the Klaus Kinski role. Herzog later brands Pegg "a foul pestilence that burrowed into my testicles like a fetid dung beetle."

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