director: Warner Herzog
writer: William Finkelstein
starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner
running time: 122 mins
Shoot him again.
His soul is still dancing.
Bad Lieutenant (notably a prefix that only later attached to the project as a nod to the unrelated to 1992 film of the same name) marks one of Nicolas Cage’s strongest performances of recent years, yet the film itself becomes a parody as it lurches between moments of lucid inspiration and a chaotic mess.
Set in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, the film opens with virtually no setup as we see good cop Terrance McDonagh [Nicolas Cage] injured as he attempts to rescue a drowning prisoner. The accident leaves him in permanent back pain, and he begins to supplement his pain management regime with narcotics. We follow his investigation of the murder of five Senegalese immigrants, while he struggles to balance his life with Frankie [Eva Mendes], his prostitute girlfriend, and mounting gambling debts. His actions gradually become more extreme as he becomes more frantic and delusional.
Herzog has a skill in drawing deranged performances from his leads, and Cage’s descent into amorality is incredibly compelling to view. His committed performance is very physical: his twisted gait and slumped shoulder conveying as much pain as his face. Unfortunately it rather peaks too early, with his fall complete by about halfway through. At this point Cage’s scenery-chewing insanity will alienate many viewers as ridiculous, although it was clearly a stylistic choice. The same will be true of the contrived closing which feels so bizarre I was convinced it was a dream sequence. There is surely an element of satire but it feels lost, and cheapens what came before.
The other problem is that the duller police procedural elements of the film are clearly not the focus, yet we return to the investigation too often, merely to push forward a story about which we do not care. Misplaced time stretches to the supporting cast: Val Kilmer as Terrence’s partner is largely unused while Big Fate [Xzibit] doesn’t make a particularly impressive villain, due more to the script than the performance. Of course matching a maniacal Cage would be a tall order. Mendes has more screen time and does adequately in evoking sympathy for an ultimately clichéd character.
Expect polarised reviews because ultimately the film is either a brave work of insane genius or a mediocre mess of interesting but undeveloped ideas. Unfortunately I am inclined towards the latter.
“My name’s Harry Lockhart. I’ll be your narrator. Welcome to L.A.”
The directorial debut of Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a comic film noir that takes its genre seriously enough that it never becomes a spoof or self-parody like so many recent efforts. Rather it’s a deft and original spin that stills packs a few surprises, great leads, and is consistently funny.
Harry [Robert Downey Jr.] is a petty crook who has ended up in Hollywood after accidentally stumbling into an audition room while fleeing from the police. Training for a role as a detective he is being given lessons by private investigator Gay Perry [Val Kilmer]. When he bumps into his childhood crush Harmony [Michelle Monaghan], he finds himself caught in a lie after telling her that he’s a detective. Agreeing to take on her case, he is way out of his depth. Film noir plots are inevitably pretty standard. Fortunately Black knows this and it’s not his selling point — it’s the characters and the style. Rather he throws in a couple of utterly contrived strands with decent payoffs but never expects his audience to buy into it fully. In fact the pace is too fast anyway; you have to just roll with it to keep up else you’ll miss out on some hilarious dialogue along the way.
The story is narrated by Harry, but this is no ordinary storytelling cliché. It is an irreverently offbeat and self-aware style, “I’ll be your narrator,” that is reminiscent of Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex, and almost as successful. Robert Downey Jr.’s cynicism and comic timing are perfect here, as Harry is happy to jump back a scene if he’s made a mistake and missed something out, “this is bad narrating, like my dad telling a joke,” and question his use of profanity. The result is a natural flow that seems incredibly genuine, especially since our “hero” is both filled with self-doubt and utterly incompetent.
Val Kilmer chooses to play the self-important detective Gay Perry in a very straight style rather than the caricature he could so easily have become. Despite his pomposity, we swiftly grow to like him. Harmony is the necessary fainting damsel in distress, but she’s far more forward than the archtype. Donning a (incredibly fetching) Santa costume rather than the expected slinky dresses, she’s a more powerful figure and far more captivating character.
A rapidfire script that’s matched by Downey Jr.’s cynical delivery, Black never insults the viewer by slowing down for them to catch up. It oftens feels like being dragged along on a ride which is very much how Harry experiences it. Always involving, none of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is genuinely groundbreaking or original, but it’s fantastically eclectic entertainment all the same and easily the best work either of the leads has done for some time.