The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Werner Herzog
viewed: 12/20/09 at CineArts @ the Empire, SF, CA

Terrible film title.  In at least a dozen ways.

This film is a thing of strangeness, though perhaps the strangeness has more to do with marketing and production than anything.  I mean, is it or isn’t it a re-make of Abel Ferrara’s cult film Bad Lieutenant(1992) in which Harvey Keitel let it all hang out in the name of debauchery and hedonism flailing in the face of hardcore Catholicism.  The answer is only “sort of”.

Director Werner Herzog is quoted as saying that he’d never seen the “original” film and did not consider it a re-make.  The only comparative point is the story follows a drug-addicted police “lieutenant” as he spirals out of control, in bouts of sex and drugs and gambling, while in the midst of a serious criminal investigation.  It made me think that this could become its own minor franchise, in which a director takes the same theme, and gives an actor a chance to really go crazy.  And in this case, Nicolas Cage brings his “A” game.

Anyone that reads this regularly (nobody but me) would know that I have a thing for Nicolas Cage movies.  He’s someone who used to be quite great and then became a bit too much, a ham among hams, a king of hilarious over-acting and yet, someone who often is still the best thing about any of his films.  He’s a strangely comic and oddball film star, who is best most of the time, in the crappiest of movies.  And seriously, though he doesn’t go all Harvey Keitel in this film, he does let loose with his most inspiredly insane and fun-filled performance in years.  He’s got all kinds of wacky lines, pained expressions, unbalanced shoulders, and coo-coo outbursts.   He is the reason to see this film.  But you can certainly wait til DVD.

Herzog is a strange enough director, fascinated with crazy, inspired people, who has blossomed his career in the past 10 years, though his true heyday would have been the 1970’s.  And while I loved his documentary Grizzly Man (2005), the last feature film that I saw of his was more interesting for its story and actors than for its direction.  Rescue Dawn (2007) struck me as a film handled by a director who wasn’t really doing much interestingly.  And with The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, it’s almost poor television quality production and acting outside of Nicolas Cage.  The small moments of true inspired strangeness, the scene in which Cage sees a break-dancing spirit, and tells the person’s killer to shoot him again because “his spirit is still dancing”, are few and far between.  And since Cage is so noted for his ad-libbing and input, I’d be more willing to offer the movie’s charms entirely to him.

We’ve got a very washed up Val Kilmer in a tiny role.  This dude used to be a major star.  Now he looks and acts like Kato Kaelin.  The rest of the police force is like a poor man’s group from any bad television detective show.  It’s pretty downright bad.  It’s almost like Herzog just doesn’t care or has no aesthetic concept.  Just hire a standard crew and let them shoot the film however.  He seems like a cool guy in real life, but, man, his fictional feature films are pretty poorly made.

Actually, the bottom line about this film is simply this: Nicolas Cage makes the film worth seeing.  Maybe it really has nothing to do with the Ferrara/Keitel Bad Lieutenant but could start a minor franchise.  This film is pure DVD fodder, not worth visiting a cinema.  And yet, Cage is hilarious, has flashes of pure manic comedy and this could well become its own little cult DVD experience just for Cage himself.

But still, an awful film title.

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