blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Bad Lieutenant (1992, Abel Ferrara)

Harvey Keitel’s performance in Bad Lieutenant reminds me of a supporting actor in a stage play who keeps fidgeting to get the audience’s attention. I wonder if Keitel passes out copies of the DVD to his neocon buddies these days.

I have seen the film before, back when I turned eighteen and went through about three days of NC-17 movies… only to learn most of them were pretty lousy and sensationalist.

Bad Lieutenant hasn’t improved in the last fourteen years.

Ferrara’s filmmaking approach here is Cassavetes-lite. It’s like Cassavetes, only with the dialogue cut (Lieutenant‘s dialogue is frequently absurd). Keitel’s delivery of those lines–alongside actors like co-writer Zoë Lund and Phil Neilson–occasionally make the film seem like a twisted attempt at camp.

Of course, it’s not camp. If the three hundred thousand Jesus icons (not to mention the shot of a wailing Jesus on the cross) don’t clue you in, it’s about Catholic redemption.

What’s so funny about the film is how ludicrous the simple parts get. The police investigation makes absolutely no sense (the crime isn’t investigated for three days, even though the cops and, presumably, the whole world know about it).

The film opens with an unintentionally comedic moment–foul-mouthed Keitel taking his kids to school–which at least suggests the film is going to be somewhat engaging. Instead, it meanders through its run time. Keitel’s the whole (bad) show.

Ken Kelsch’s cinematography’s good.

For all the noise, I almost fell asleep.

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