First things first: Nobody cares about the 1992 Bad Lieutenant, no masterpiece, which provides barely a premise for Werner Herzog's unexpectedly enjoyable, amoral comedy. Policeman Nicolas Cage hurts his back rescuing a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina; he's promoted to lieutenant for his valor, but also becomes addicted to pain pills, crack, and the predatory thrill of stealing drugs from anyone he threatens to arrest. Throw in some parking-lot sex at gunpoint, so much the better. His girlfriend (Eva Mendes) is a prostitute; he owes thousands to his bookie (Brad Dourif); why get hung up on right and wrong? Herzog certainly isn't. His screenwriter, William J. Finkelstein, is a veteran of TV cop shows, and Herzog relates the police investigation of family massacre with unfussy economy. He rarely frames the camera wide on post-Katrina wreckage, but unexpectedly swoops up to show how a dying alligator, its guts exploded on the highway, has caused a serious wreck. The iguanas that Cage hallucinates and a final backdrop of sharks also provide spiritual links back to Grizzly Man, whose bears kill because it's their nature, and nature is "chaos, hostility, and murder," as Herzog then put it. Cage—operating short of full-gonzo mode—is of a piece with the bears and gators, happiest when he's hunting. Comedy, tragedy—there's no difference among predators; and Herzog mocks the very idea of a just ending. Chaos merely slides into remission, like hurricane weather, waiting to return.
Cage tries to be good for Mendes' sake.
Opens at Metro and Uptown, Wed., Nov. 25. Rated R. 121 minutes.