‘Bad Lieutenant’ just crazy enough to work

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Tuesday, November 24, 2009 6:16pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

By all objective standards and practices, “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is not a successful movie: It’s wild and uneven and puzzling.

Now that we have the objectives standards out of the way, can we talk about how crazy-great this movie is?

Directed by Werner (“Grizzly Man”) Herzog and starring Nicolas Cage — two of the more outlandish personalities in current cinema — “Bad Lieutenant” is, to quote a different Cage performance, rockin’ good news.

There was a 1992 film, directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Harvey Keitel, called “Bad Lieutenant.” There’s not much connection between the two pictures.

This one begins with cocky N’awlins cop Terry McDonagh (Cage) being injured in a Katrina-related accident. Months later, hopped up on painkillers and sleazily creative when it comes to making evidence disappear, McDonagh is assigned to a multiple homicide.

The film never really gets too deeply into the detail of this killing; it’s much more focused on Terry’s deteriorating mental and physical state. He’s trying to care for his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), in serious hock to his bookie (Brad Dourif), and worried about his father (Tom Bower) and dad’s boozy wife (Jennifer Coolidge).

Then Terry seriously irritates a mob-connected politico, and tries to get in with a local crime kingpin (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner). This is self-destructive behavior of a truly expert sort, and Terry’s odds of survival get smaller as the movie goes on.

Thanks to Herzog’s eye for swampy detail and Cage’s commitment to strung-out wackiness, the movie just buzzes right along. Please understand: If your idea of a good cop show is a sober, well-made episode of “Law &Order” or “CSI,” this movie is not for you.

But if you like to walk on the wild side … come on over. Nicolas Cage, whose bottle-rocket skills are often left unlit in his more conventional parts, gets to catch fire here. Hunched with pain and glassy-eyed with substance overload, his performance would not be out of place in a silent German Expressionist movie from the 1920s, and his dialogue delivery spills out according to his own internal drum kit.

I don’t know why Val Kilmer’s in the movie (as Cage’s partner), or why everything happens the way it does. But this picture’s got juice and nerve. And I never knew quite what was coming in the next moment, which is a rare feeling at the movies these days.

“The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” * * *

Nicolas Cage goes off the hook for his role as a corrupt, drug-addicted New Orleans cop, whose odds of surviving the many hurdles placed in his way get smaller as the film goes on. Directed by Werner Herzog with an eye for swampy detail, this wild and weird movie won’t please fans of well-made police stories — but it’s got nerve.

Rated: R for violence, language, nudity

Showing: Metro, Uptown

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