Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is the most mainstream movie legendary director Werner Herzog has ever made. It’s a fairly straight ahead genre picture. The film takes a wild and sleazy trip through post-Katrina New Orleans with Nicolas Cage, as a corrupt New Orleans police detective whose life spirals out of control after he permanently injures himself while saving a drowning man, as our guide. The film, despite its B-movie trappings and budget manages to be thoroughly entertaining and darkly hilarious.
Cage plays the titular Bad Lieutenant as either high or jonesing for the length of the film. The look of manic glee on his face as he forces a young woman to have sex with him while her boyfriend watches or when he, in the film’s best scene, demands his gang member business partners shoot a ruthless gangster after he has already been killed because “his ghost is still dancing” while Zydeco music screams on the soundtrack, give the film such an over the top, crazed energy that lets you know, despite the darkness of his actions, this is not to be taken seriously. Freed from even the smallest pretense of seriousness, Cage is more fun in this movie than he has been in years. The man has a gift for comedy and he shouldn’t waste it on big budget crap like the National Treasure franchise when he could be so much better in low budget crap like this.
The film occasionally pays lip service to its premise, trying weakly to establish that Cage is a stand in for the city as whole, damaged after Katrina and trying desperately to find his way back to normalcy, but the film only comes alive when Herzog is allowed to play. such as when he spends a few minutes showing an Alligator snapping it’s jaws on the outskirts of a car accident or when he pans out over the eerily empty streets of New Orleans . His disinterest in conventional storytelling is most palpable when most of the films subplots are wrapped up in rapid fashion in one scene. He clearly wanted to get the plot details out of the wait as quickly as possible so he could get back to showing Cage tripping out and crackling wildly.
That’s not to say that the films only asset is Cage. It’s also deeply funny watching veterans like Erma P .Hall and Deadwood alum Brad Dourif struggle to ground the film as Cage bounces around. A scene where Cage is questioning Hall almost doesn’t work because of how realistically Hall reacts to Cage depriving an elderly woman of oxygen and brandishing his massive revolver, but Cage’s fluctuating 30’s mobster accent keeps the proceedings light. The only cast member who doesn’t seem to into Cage’s madness is his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes. She seems only mildly interesting in the film, reacting the same way to being manhandled by a mobster and doing a line of coke. A more game actress would’ve made the film’s clichéd cop/hooker with heart of gold romance a lot less of a slog.
If you’re a fan of Herzog’s iconoclastic cinematic masterpieces like Fitzcarraldo or his recent efforts like Rescue Dawn, this film may seem a bit odd and it’s altogether possible he directed this film in an effort to secure funding for his more personal films, there is a lot of the man in this film and much to enjoy from an unleashed Cage. Check it out for no other reason than to hear one of the best final lines in a movie ever.
All of the releases mentioned here have links to their respective Amazon pages but you can also visit Cleveland area Blockbusters, Family Videos, and redboxes for these and other new releases.
Mario blogs regularly at A Polemic Killer Room.