Detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) has been promoted to lieutenant in the wake of his heroic actions during Hurricane Katrina. Even though he's a coke-snorting, evidence-tampering, gambling-addict rapist with a hooker (Mendes) for a girlfriend. Now he's investigating the grisly murder of a family. He knows that local gangster Big Fate (Joiner) is to blame, but he has no proof beyond a nervous 15-year-old witness (Whitaker). As his entire world squeezes in on him, he merely turns to more drugs, violence and sex to worm his way out.
Cage goes for broke with this performance, adopting a drunken John Wayne walk combined with crazy-eyed twitches and severe shifts in personality. It's completely impossible that Terence manages to stay on his feet though this story, and indeed Cage looks like he could fall over at any moment, especially when he starts to hilariously hallucinate about iguanas, which combine with the water-snakes and crocodiles to give the film a reptilian tone.
Herzog clearly knows what he's doing here, and the film's slimy, murky atmosphere is packed with pitch-black humour that oozes from the screen.
Besides Cage's walking-death nuttiness, the supporting cast is a who's who of scene-stealing overactors, from the slinky Mendes to the puffy Kilmer as a snarky colleague. Coolidge has one of the most unexpected roles, far against type as Terence's weather-beaten stepmum. And when you stir the likes of Dourif and Shannon into the mix, you have enough texture for 10 movies.
With Herzog's boozy direction and Mark Isham's gloomy jazz score, the film takes on the same hilariously sordid rhythm as the increasingly messy Terence, lurching from languid to leery to hyperactive and back. And while this doesn't really do the plot or characters any favours (it's impossible to take any of this seriously), it does make the film compulsive viewing. It's too camp to be involving, but you can't look away.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th September 2009
Box Office USA: $1.6M
Distributed by: First Look Pictures
Production compaines: Millennium Films, Edward R. Pressman Film, Saturn Films, Polsky Films, Osiris Productions, Lieutenant Productions, Nu Image Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 121 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenwriter: William M. Finkelstein
Starring: Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh, Eva Mendes as Frankie Donnenfeld, Val Kilmer as Stevie Pruit, Fairuza Balk as Heidi, Shawn Hatosy as Armand Benoit, Jennifer Coolidge as Genvieve, Tom Bower as Pat McDonagh, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Captain James Brasser, Irma P. Hall as Binnie Rogers, Shea Whigham as Justin, Michael Shannon as Mundt, Brad Dourif as Ned Schoenholtz, Xzibit as Big Fate