This is one of those movies that, on the surface, sounds like one of those straight-to-video sequels of hit movies that feature none of its original stars. Except that this in-name-only sequel/remake of Abel Ferrara's infamous 1992 release Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Keitel as a dirty cop and fallen Catholic, stars an A-list cast headlined by Nicolas Cage, high production values, and a director infinitely more prestigious than Ferrara.
I love Werner Herzog, but at first he seems a strange fit for this detective movie about a drug- and gambling-addicted police officer (Cage) trying to bring down the crooks who slaughtered a Senegalese immigrant family in one of New Orleans' poorest neighborhoods six months after Hurricane Katrina. But while he does not quite make Bad Lieutenant "Herzogian" (aside from some wonderful scenes involving reptiles and a wide-angle lens), he certainly knows what he's doing, and he brings out a satisfyingly loopy performance from the divisive Cage. While the actor plays it straight here more often than you might expect, when he does cut loose it's great fun to watch. The film also lacks the scolding, fatalistic quality of Ferrara's original. In fact, in an interview, Herzog calls this film a comedy and says that laughter would be the highest compliment it could receive. It's not really as funny as all that, but its wild moments are very entertaining, especially if you are drunk and/or part of an enthusiastic audience.
I still suspect Herzog did this for the money, as it's such an uncharacteristic work (his previous Indiewood feature Rescue Dawn was pure Herzog), but he brings out the true flavor of New Orleans, exploring its gritty Third World corners, and there is nary a Mardi Gras bead in sight. Eva Mendes heads up a capable supporting cast of familiar faces, including Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk, Val Kilmer, and Jennifer Coolidge. Presumably everybody was excited to work with Cage and Herzog, and one gets a sense while watching Bad Lieutenant that cast and crew were all having a great time. Mark Isham's jazzy score is a big plus. Worthwhile, especially for those who enjoy watching Nicolas Cage go a little nuts.