Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nic Cage strips, mewls, pinwheels arms

I saw Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant during college, at home on a break, in my friend's basement. I guess it must have been somewhere in the second half of my sophomore year, because it came out in the fall of 1992. It would have been available on VHS sometime the following spring.

Simply put, we found it laughable. Once we got through that patch when we were trying to go along with it -- fearing that it was a deep movie revealing our shallowness, because we were unable to understand it -- we gave in to mocking it fully. One recurring joke was that every time Harvey Keitel's character would do something bad, one of us would say, "That sure is one bad lieutenant." It's pretty hilarious if you're 19.

My enduring image of that movie, however, is of Keitel standing naked, crying like a wounded animal. In fact, nudity and mewling have become something of a trademark for Keitel, at least as far as my group of high school friends are concerned. He does the same stuff, though not necessarily in the same scene, in The Piano.

But that's a good movie, and this, my friends, is not. And the naked mewling scene stands out as some kind of perfect encapsulation of its ridiculousness. But if he were just naked and crying, that would be one thing. It's the behavior of his body at the time that truly makes a viewer howl. Keitel extends his arms out to the side, Jesus-style, and slowly pinwheels them while making his agitated whimpering. If you didn't see the movie, it looks more or less like this:

Today, a sequel/remake/none-of-the-above is being released, with the ungainly title Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It stars Nicolas Cage, and is directed by Werner Herzog.

It's the Werner Herzog part that really makes me curious. He's directed such acclaimed (and diverse) films as Grizzly Man and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which I got interrupted watching the other day and have yet to complete. I'm really interested to see what he does with this material, especially now that I hear some good buzz about the film -- particularly in reference to Cage's performance, surprisingly.

I also love Herzog's reaction to hearing that Abel Ferrara was annoyed that they were branding this as a remake of his original film. Herzog said he didn't even know who Abel Ferrara was, which I found hilarious, because obviously he's being disingenuous just to diss Ferrara, and I've considered Ferrara a fool ever since seeing Bad Lieutenant. Herzog went on to say that the only similarity to Ferrara's movie (which he claims not to have seen) is that there's a morally corrupt lieutenant as the protagonist -- it's not the same character or the same setting. In fact, he said that he objected to the title, having been required to accept it by outside forces, and that the title is "probably a mistake." But just so you don't think Herzog is completely uncharitable, he is also later quoted as saying he'd like to meet Abel Ferrara and was sure they could work out any of Ferrara's concerns over a bottle of whiskey.

I don't think I'm going to go so far as to prioritize a cinematic screening, but consider me a lot more intrigued than I was when I first saw the trailer a week ago, and was getting all prepared to laugh at a Bad Lieutenant film for the second time in my moviegoing career.

I am kind of hoping that there is at least one more similarity to Bad Lieutenant. I think it would be hilarious, as a shout-out to the other movie, if Nicolas Cage has a scene where he is naked, mewling, and pinwheeling his arms. As if that is the trademark move of bad lieutenants the world over.

It reminds me of the joke my friend Mike made that I thought was absolutely hilarious, though again, that was probably the 19-year-old version of ourselves, and it won't translate. I had seen the execrable La Femme Nikita remake Point of No Return, but not yet seen La Femme Nikita. The signature moment from Point of No Return that had been repeated ad nauseum in ads was when Bridget Fonda's character says (to Gabriel Byrne, I think) "I'm through, I'm out!" So I asked Mike what the similarities were between Point of No Return and La Femme Nikita, and he said it's basically the same, except in La Femme Nikita she says "Je suis through, je suis out!" Gold, Jerry, gold.

Anyway, I hope Bad Lieutenant 2 has a big weekend and cuts into the box office of that other sequel being released this weekend, which shall remain nameless.

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