By the time Nicolas Cage screeches, “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” near the end of “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” his master class of extreme acting reaches its apex. This is the performance that Cage has been slowly working toward; a koo koo bananas performance that makes his demented work in “Knowing” look restrained. But you know what? It works.
Set in post Katrina New Orleans, Cage is Terence McDonagh a good, but wild cop who injures his back saving a drowning prisoner in a flooded jail. Soon he becomes addicted to pain killers, then coke, then anything that will ease his aching back. When he can no longer easily get drugs from the evidence room at work for him and his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) he goes off the deep end, falling into an abyss of sex, drugs and gambling. Throughout it all he works to solve the case of a family of murdered Senagalese immigrants. “Just because he likes to get high,” says Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer), “doesn’t stop him being the po-lice.”
“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” doesn’t have the same operatic madness as Brian DePalma’s “Scarface,” it’s too down and dirty for that, but it does have an unhinged quality that makes it the most surprising film of the year. The police procedural portion of the story is fairly straightforward, but Cage’s acting—which is as big as the 44 Magnum he has permanently wedged in his belt—and director Werner Herzog’s surreal touches, like a hallucination scene complete with close-ups of iguanas, a Tom Jones soundtrack and a bug eyed Cage, make it a memorable experience.
Finding the tone of the film may be the most challenging part of finding enjoyment here. It’s gritty and silly, but unlike the film it is very loosely based on, Abel Ferarra’s cult classic “Bad Lieutenant,” it doesn’t take itself very seriously. That’s not apparent at first, but when Cage physically abuses an elderly woman, shrieking, “I’m trying to be courteous but I’m beginning to think that’s getting in the way of me being effective,” while coked out of his mind, it becomes obvious that this is a satire of bad cop movies like “Narc” or “Training Day.”
Seen as parody, the film’s richness and don’t-give-a-damn energy—even if the plot points don’t always add up—make it one of the more unusual and entertaining movies of the year.
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