Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Review: Bad Lieutenant- Port of Call New Orleans

A charming Louisiana setting, a story about an underdog achieving their dreams, a tale of true love, and magical reptiles. By this description you'd probably assume I was writing about Disney's Princess and the Frog, but I'm not. As you can guess based on this post's title, we're dealing with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans here.

Ostensibly a "re-imagining" of Abel Ferrara's New York-set original, director Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (you just have to use the full title) is another animal entirely. Sharing only a title and a character archetype, it seems as if the script was written and the producers were afraid that any film featuring a drug-addicted, sex fiend crooked cop looking for redemption would need to pay royalties to Ferrara and use his title. The fact is that Herzog claims never to have seen the original Lieutenant and labored furiously to change the name shows: Nic Cage isn't channeling Harvey Keitel and these two movies are about as closely related as anything else in the crooked cop subgenre.

BLPOCNO tells the story of Lt. Terrence McDonagh, a New Orleans police officer who after a selfless act of heroism in the line of duty during Hurricane Katrina ends up with a bad back and an addiction to painkillers. Before you know it, Terry is supplementing his Vicodin prescription with drugs stolen from the precinct property room and is shaking down would-be female collars for handjobs (basically his life is a Mondo Generator song). During the investigation of a turf war between African-American and African-African gangs, he falls in with drug lord Big Fate (Xzibit) and might be getting in over his head. On top of all this, his call-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend (Eva Mendes, think Holly Golightly with a coke habit) is in trouble with a mob connected john, he owes his bookie (Brad Dourif) a couple thousand dollars, internal affairs is on his ass, and he he has to take care of his alcoholic dad's dog. In addition, he keeps hallucinating iguanas wherever he goes (think Hunter S. Thompson as a cop). What's a bad lieutenant to do?
As a study of the titular character, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' success rests heavily on the performance of it's star Nicolas Cage, a man whose name has become synonymous with ridiculous, over-the-top, bad acting in the past decade. I never thought I would say this but without a drop of irony I hereby declare that Cage deserves another Oscar nomination for his performance here. I'm dead serious.

The best metaphor I can think of would be this: remember Dinobot from Beast Wars? He started out as a Predacon, but after the first episode he switched sides and became a Maximal and was an awesome force for good. That's what Nic Cage is doing here. The batshit crazy acting style that he has championed for most of his career is put to brilliant use here, because he's playing a batshit insane character. You've never seen anything better than Nic Cage after a hit from his "lucky crack pipe" and the scene where he interrogates a pair of old ladies is honestly one of my new favorite scenes in any movie ever. The movie effectively serves as a big metaphor for Cage's career: in the opening scene, he's rewarded for his great work (Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, Adaptation, aw hell let's throw the Rock in there too) but soon spirals into an abyss of addiction and insanity (the Wicker Man et cetera). However, by the end he's using his "badness" to get the job done and save the day (this movie).

In truth, I've never lost faith in Nic Cage. He's one of those guys who has earned a lifetime pass in my book. No matter how bad he's been, you can't root against the guy. He named himself after Luke Cage and named his son after Superman for chrissakes! It was really just a matter of time before he got back on top, he's always had the talent, he's just made some poor choices in terms of projects recently. Teaming legendarily crazy actor Nicolas Cage with legendarily crazy director Werner Herzog was a great call, I hope they do some more work together in the future.

If it's playing in your area and you're up for some crack-fueled Nicolas Cage action, give Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans a chance. It's the sleeper hit of the holiday season.

Final verdict: 70 Congos