Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Werner Herzog has made some weird films in his time. Some weird in a good way, some weird in a bad way, some just plain weird. But the near-psychotic German is never afraid of a challenge, even if it involves dragging a steamboat all the way over a hill. Here, he sinks his teeth in Abel Ferrarra’s 1992 corrupt cop flick with manic glee. Manic and glee being the operative words. Unless you prefer words like demented. Or bonkers.
Terrence McDonagh (Cage) is a cop off the rails. Ever since his spontaneous heroic act of help in post-Hurricane Katrina, where he saves a man from drowning, he’s been on Vicodin for his chronic back pains. He’s also been on weed. And cocaine. And a hell of a lot of booze. Did we mention he’s a gambling addict too?
Walking around town at a permanent 30-degree angle to the camera, Cage’s anti-hero is an insane and disturbing figure. There’s no telling what he’ll do to help out his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Mendes), or to score his next fix. He waves his gun around, honks on his crack pipe and shouts at his sidekick (a pudgy Val Kilmer, adding wonderfully to the depraved, run-down tapestry of Herzog’s mind).
He also sees iguanas. Everywhere. Crawling on coffee tables, staring at him from chairs; lizards turn up all over the film in a barmy, hallucinatory touch. One scene shows a road accident where an SUV has up-ended thanks to a giant alligator lying half-dead in the road. Sure enough, we soon cut to the alligator’s number two, lurking in the bushes by the highway, watching everything unfold. This is Herzog letting full rip, going all the way with his nutty impulses and constantly coming up with solid gold.
But the show belongs to Nic Cage. Back on crazy form after years of mainstream coasting, he turns that unhinged glint in his eye up to 11, repeatedly laughing at a man’s name (“G”) and waggling his eyebrows like crazy. Between this and Kick-Ass, he hasn’t had this much fun since Face/Off. Perfectly chiming in with Herzog’s uneven tone, he follows William Finkelstein’s hilarious script to the letter, yet somehow never feels stuck in a conventional cop thriller. Which is what this is, once you strip away the seedy sex, dirty drugs and gangland murders.
The remake may not have the raw ferocity of Ferrarra’s original, but it has an ironic edge all of its own. The kind of irony that makes you fear for your own sanity. “Shoot him again,” orders Terrence, just after a dealer gets dispatched by a shotgun. “Why?” comes the reply. “His soul’s still dancing,” answers Terrence, staring into space. And it really is.