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Bad lieutenants then and now

Things were different with police protocol back in 1991. At least in Abel Ferrara's New York City.

Today a cop gets into a confrontation involving race and the problem gets resolved over a beer with the President at the White House. Back then, or as seen in Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant (1992)," which came out in a new DVD edition earlier this week from Lionsgate, the sequence is somewhat reversed. In the title role Harvey Keitel steps into a stand-off between an Asian convenience store owner, two black kids accused of robbing him and a white uniformed cop. First thing he says: "Get me a Bud. A fucking high boy!"

That's the key: have the beer FIRST.

Maybe the President can work his magic with the contretemps between Ferrara and Werner Herzog, who will be showing his non-remake of Ferrara's notorious cult classic titled "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" starring Nicolas Cage at the Toronto Film Festival and also will be putting it into competition at Venice.


He'll have his work cut out for him. Says Ferrara when he heard about Herzog's project, "I hope these people die in hell!" Counters Herzog: "I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is ... I've never seen a film by him ... Is he Italian? Is he French? Who is he?"

Herzog, though, will have HIS work cut out for him to equal the in-your-face outrageousness of Ferrara's film (in-your-face literally, as Keitel had his dick on screen when Judd Apatow was still co-producing "Rosanne" and Sacha Baron Cohen was studying History at Cambridge). True, the trailer for the film (which leaves in doubt whether it is a parody or a David Lynchian black comedy or some demented Herzogian sui generis) has some nice lines ("What is a fucking iguana doing on my coffee table?" and "Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing."). But he'll be hard-pressed to top the scene in which Keitel pulls over a couple of high school-aged party girls for a minor infraction. As Ken Kelsch, Ferrara's DP says in the DVD's voiceover commentary (the give and take between him and Ferrara is ribald, hilarious and almost as outré as the film itself):

 "I was wondering what was going to happen here. All the script said was ‘kinky sex scene follows..' Wow. There was something more perverse here than I ever expected."

That's for sure. Complete with a new documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew, "Bad Lieutenant: Special Edition" (Lionsgate | $20) is as bad as lieutenants get.

  • The Cinema Guy said:

    A long neglected cop drama that, up until Training Day perhaps, was unlike any other. Keitel's performance, as a protagonist as belligerently immoral as any Jim Thompson could dream up, is a virtual tour de force, comparable to something like Ray Winstone's turn in Nil by Mouth. While the scenes involving the church resemble something out of Mean Streets era Scorcese, Keitel's nude dance is, as alluded to, one of a kind.  Best of all (unlike Training day), the film actually holds together, a case of Ferrara meeting the right actor/story for his particular brand of off-kilter indie street.

    August 1, 2009 3:46 PM

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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