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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 7.14%
Average: 28.57%
Pretty Bad: 7.14%
Total Crap: 3.57%

3 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
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by Rob Gonsalves

"The Lizard King."
5 stars

There are a host of scaly, slimy critters in "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" — snakes, gators, iguanas — and after a while we get the idea: The movie is about the lizard brain, the atavistic area of the mind that wants, hates, fears.

The bad lieutenant in question is Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a reptile on two feet, ravenously snorting and smoking various iterations of cocaine. McDonagh does this to kill the pain in his back, which he injured while saving a prisoner from a flooded jail cell in the days after Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans of the movie is a gray and blasted place, perfect stomping grounds for the beige-suited McDonagh, who takes advantage of the chaos to feed his demons.

None of this, though, prepares us for how funny Bad Lieutenant is. There was another movie by that title, from 1992, with Harvey Keitel as a soul-sick lapsed-Catholic cop confronting his own faith while trying to catch two guys who raped a nun. Keitel was a howling bulldog, drugging himself into quiet oblivion. This Bad Lieutenant is not a remake; it simply uses the title and the basic theme of a cop lost in addiction and corruption. The legendary director Werner Herzog, perhaps best known recently for Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn, has always been preoccupied by obsession, exalted or ecstatic states of mind. McDonagh, getting high, has visions of iguanas, football players with antlers, and so on. If anything, his drug abuse makes him a better detective, since it frees him to make connections that sane people miss. He’s a bit like Sherlock Holmes, who also liked to indulge in a sniff of powder, except McDonagh is his own Moriarty.

The official plot has McDonagh trying to get to the bottom of the murders of local African drug dealers. He also has a prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and a gambling habit (Brad Dourif is his bookie, indulgent up to a point). But most of Bad Lieutenant is a study in extremis. Herzog has obviously given Nicolas Cage permission to try anything, and Cage responds with an overwrought jazz riff of a performance, abstract and near-geometrical. (In agony from his compressed spine, McDonagh always stands and walks askew, a parallelogram pumped full of poison and pain.) If Keitel was a seething, ticking time bomb, Cage goes all the way into rage and hysteria. The weird thing is that McDonagh’s partner (Val Kilmer) might be an even dirtier cop than he is, but since Kilmer doesn’t rhapsodize about touchdown-scoring elks, nobody’s watching him.

As usual, Herzog works the madness for any poetry he can find, as in the much-quoted scene in which McDonagh says of a just-killed criminal, “Shoot him again — his soul’s still dancing,” and sure enough, the soul is break-dancing to harmonica music from Herzog’s Stroszek. On one level, the movie shows what happens when you hire the director of Fitzcarraldo to make a police procedural: Herzog couldn’t make a mainstream movie if you held a gun to his head.

And in Cage, Herzog has found his lizard king, beginning the movie by jumping into snake-infested water and ending it leaning against a shark tank. By that point, life has improved externally for McDonagh (there’s a late scene that plays like McDonagh’s wishful daydream but is, hilariously, real), but he’s stuck with the same sharp-fanged amygdala, forever wanting and hating and fearing.

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originally posted: 12/04/09 13:09:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Venice International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Venice International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/07/14 Monday Morning Beautifully captures the total sleaziness that is New Orleans & its citizens 3 stars
8/26/13 DB It's OK, but my favorite Nicolas Cage movie is "Lord of War". 3 stars
3/23/12 Lizzie I don't think it's good. 1 stars
4/19/10 GEORGE B. FEIST Emperors New Clothes...??...what movie are you guys watching??.. 2 stars
4/12/10 mr.mike Better than the original. After 20 years Cage has finally grown on me. 4 stars
3/14/10 JP Ward No more significant (or entertaining) than watching pretentious artists play cops & robbers 2 stars
2/06/10 Tim I can't stop laughing watching this movie 5 stars
1/20/10 Andrew Shearer Worth seeing for when Cage threatens the old ladies with his pistol. 4 stars
1/11/10 matt Nicolas Cage calls a little old lady a cunt and puts a gun to her head. Pure epic gold 5 stars
12/08/09 Fuckit Good flick dudes. Likin nicky Cage 5 stars
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  20-Nov-2009 (R)
  DVD: 06-Apr-2010


  DVD: 06-Apr-2010

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