Review in a Hurry: You may have heard that Nicolas Cage acts completely insane in the title role of a New Orleans cop who becomes a heavy drug user. It's true...but "completely insane" is relative in the case of this particular actor, and this isn't as over-the-top as, say, The Wicker Man. But it is an engaging cop caper complete with Cage craziness, and that's enough.
The Bigger Picture: Despite the title, director Werner Herzog insists that this is not a remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara flick starring Harvey Keitel. Judging by the abridged interviews in the press kit with various other folks involved in the movie, not everyone is on the same page as the director.
Suffice it to say that aside from the title, all the two movies really have in common are a central character who is a police lieutenant and does too many drugs. But have no fear, you will not see any frontal Cage nudity here.
This is New Orleans, so of course Hurricane Katrina comes into play: our story kicks off as the waters are rising, and officer Terence McDonagh (Cage) and his partner Stevie Pruitt (Val Kilmer, seeming downright sane when juxtaposed with Cage) are cleaning out lockers at the police station. Turns out a perp is still locked below in a holding cell, on the verge of drowning as the entire building floods. Initially, McDonagh and Pruitt decide to make a bet on when the time of death will be, but when a sudden pang of conscience hits, McDonagh dives in and saves the guy, earning himself a promotion to lieutenant and a permanent lower back injury that leads to constant pain.
McDonagh spends much of the rest of the movie investigating the execution-style murder of an immigrant family, but his attempts to mete out justice are stymied by constant detours into pain-controlling drug use, meetings with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), and all kinds of legal infractions both minor and major for the sake of maintaining his cocaine habit.
At one point Cage starts lapsing into an Al Pacino-like voice for no apparent reason. At another, he imagines an iguana, and we get a minute or so of extreme closeup on the lizard. Then there's one shot from the point of view of an alligator.
Despite the weirdness, however, the story ends up coalescing quite nicely, with a deceptively easygoing script (by frequent Steven Bochco collaborator William Finkelstein, with a lot of improvisation by Cage and Herzog) that's tighter than it seems.
And you can't fault the casting: Brad Dourif, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Irma P. Hall, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit (now going by his real name, Alvin Joiner), Michael Shannon, and Shawn Hatosy are among the many familiar character actors. Herzog even gives Jennifer Coolidge the rare opportunity to play someone other than a botox caricature.
As for Cage, he's reminiscent in some ways of William Shatner circa early '90s, right when it seemed to be starting to dawn on him that people thought he was a total caricature, and loved him for it. Either you're a fan of this shtick by now or you aren't. And considering that Cage and Mendes also costarred in Ghost Rider—we want to see some of you amateur editors putting up some Youtube mash-ups, ASAP! Possibilities for genius abound.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The movie's biggest problem is that it looks like it was shot on film stock that's old and cheap—and not in a retro-cool way, either.
Also out this week: The Twilight Saga: New Moon