Less a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cult classic than the tale of another crooked, junkie cop going spectacularly off the rails, with Nicolas Cage finally blessed with a suitable vehicle for his increasingly over-the-top acting shtick.
Wearing a baggy suit with a gun jammed down the front of his trousers, his back hunched due to an-on-the-job injury, Cage’s cop soon graduates from doctor-prescribed drugs for his chronic pain to snorting cocaine, sniffing heroin and smoking crack. From there, it’s an easy descent into criminality, stealing evidence, ripping off punters for their dope and screwing their girlfriends in front of them, then later making a deal with the same drug lord he’s been trying to put away for the massacre of a Senegalese family in order to pay off his gambling debts, as well his high-class hooker girlfriend Frankie’s (Eva Mendes) pissed-off pimp.
It’s all completely loopy and surprisingly entertaining, as Herzog, who here claimed not to have seen Ferrara’s film, eschews the Catholic guilt and Christ visions, and notoriously hard-edged, grubby tone of the original, for black humour, quirky pessimism and absurd lunacy involving close ups of alligators, hallucinations of iguanas, and a dead man’s breakdancing soul.
Cage’s sleep-deprived, drug-addled performance is suitably energetic, all madcap facial ticks and coked-up psychosis, yet his demented, self-destructive cop never plumbs the depths of depravity and menace that Keitel’s did. There’s no naked weeping in front of the mirror for starters, nor does he shoot out his car radio in anger, although the scene in a retirement home in which he threatens two elderly woman, screaming “I should kill you both, you fucks!” while brandishing his gun at one and ripping the oxygen tube from the nose of the other, comes closest.
Shame, then, the film looks so bad. The murky, muddy cinematography, rather than lending the film the documentary feel one suspects Herzog was after, simply renders it cheap and dull looking.