Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Say Anything: Bad Lieutenant

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 17, 2008

“I’ve done so many BAD things…”


Bad Lieutenant is a fascinating lesson in how a one-time polarizing, controversial art house success can become a movie mostly remembered for its middle-aged star showing his junk if you don’t actually bother to make the movie any good. Starring Harvey Keitel as the titular Bad Lieutenant (more on that later), the film shows a portrait of a corrupt, despicable man’s descent into the worst aspects of humanity, and his search for some sort of redemption before his excesses swallow him whole. Unfortunately, the movie is less a disturbing, cathartic update of Mean Streets for the 90s, as some critics/apologists have claimed, as it is an exceptionally hilarious piece of under-scripting and over-acting. Did I say unfortunately? I meant thankfully. We progress:

  • What. A. Title. It’s rare that a movie just lays its intentions so bare with its appelation, but Bad Lieutenant is really all you need to know about Bad Lieutenant. That’s the movie, right there, in two words. And as you watch Keitel throughout the movie (and his character doesn’t even have a name, avoiding any sort of confusion), abusing power, doing hard drugs, stealing and threatening and doing all sorts of nefarious shit, you just gotta say to yourself “WOW, that is one Bad Lieutenant!
  • Why, oh why, was their such a demand for Harvey Keitel’s dick in badly dated early-90s art house cinema? Between his work in this and The Piano, you could actually refer to “that kind of shitty indie movie from like 15 years ago where Harvey Keitel goes full frontal” and the person you’re talking to could say “Which one?” How the hell does that happen?  Was it just a case of supply and demand in terms of critically respected actors in their 50s willing to go buffo? Do Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson get gunshy?
  • The scene where Keitel pulls over a couple girls without drivers licenses and blackmails them into performing sexual favors for him….yeah, it’s sort of disturbing, yeah, it’s sort of shocking, but mostly, it’s just impractical. He makes one of them physically mime oral sex, while he talks dirty to himself and jacks off by the side of their car. I mean, as long as you’re going to take the time and effort to ghost-violate an underage girl, why not actually get in the car with her and remove the middle man? I mean, I’m sure this isn’t the first time he’s done this, so I guess he knows what he likes while sexually harrassing vulnerable lawbreakers, but still.
  • In his All-Movie Guide review of the movie, Brandon Hanley observes: “In 1992, Keitel was making quite a diverse career statement, starring in this movie, Reservoir Dogs, and…Sister Act.” Good point. Never really understood what Whoopi and Harvey saw in each other in that movie anyways.
  • The most fascinating sub-plot in this movie has to be the Bad Lieutenant’s gambling on the 1992 NLCS…between the Mets and the Dodgers. Watching this movie for the first time I kept saying to myself “wait, when is this movie supposed to take place?” Then the Mets came back from 0-3 to beat the Dodgers, and it became pretty obvious that this was a fictional playoff series. In reality, the Dodgers and Mets were two of the worst teams in baseball in ’92, the Dodgers going 63-99 (with Darryl Strawberry, the team’s star in the movie, having a miserable and injury-plagued season) and the Mets finishing fifth in their division and getting branded The Worst Team Money Can Buy.  Talk about your stories of redemption. Props to the movie for actually manufacturing realistic fictional radio broadcasts and editing pre-existing game footage to make it seem like the series actually happened.
  • Even more impractical than the masturbation-harrassment scene is Bad Lieutenant’s final plan, his hope for redemption by getting rid of the two jerks who raped the nun at the beginning of the movie. Rather than kill them, he decides to morally do right by the nun (who has since forgiven them, and taught BL about the importance of faith and open-heartedness) and simply force them to leave town. But all he does is make sure they get on a bus out of town, not even really doing any “if you ever come back” type threatening. Does he think they won’t be able to figure out that they can take a bus back? Or just say to the bus driver “yeah, that guy with the gun sorta forced us to get on here, can you just let us off at the corner or something?” If this is your grand shot at redemption, BL, maybe try a little bit harder.
  • The sounds that Harvey Keitel makes at the end of this movie must be heard to be believed. The obvious “whale-humping” comparison doesn’t even scratch the surface. Some can be heard here.
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans starring Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes and Xzibit, directed by Werner Herzog, coming soon! I can’t think of anything I’m looking forward to more.

5 Responses to “Say Anything: Bad Lieutenant”

  1. Victor said

    For a mere 15 dollars you can freeze that unforgettable nude Harvey Keitel moment in time forever.

  2. Jon said

    I found this post via google after trying to figure out what year’s NCLS the movie was supposed to depict. Thanks for clearing that up. BTW, Netflix Canada censored all the nudity and god knows what else. Should I be chagrined or relieved?

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