Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans

by | Apr 6th, 2010 | 2:17AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

Because he makes so many bad films, we forget how well Nicolas Cage plays crazy. Luckily director Werner Herzog knows exactly how much to let chaos—and Cage—reign. Their Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans ends up greater than its wild and sleazy parts. In fact it’s a damn near masterpiece of madness.

It’s a reliable go-to joke for us snarksters: Nicolas Cage is nuts! Look out, he’s got the wacky eyes! And his hair appears to be some sort of symbiotic alien attached to his brainstem!

To be fair, a lot of that is deserved. The one-time Oscar-winner’s gone from Leaving Las Vegas to yee-hah action trash like The Rock and Con Air, the shallow paydays of the National Treasure franchise, and whacked-out crap such as Neil LaBute’s hilariously wretched Wicker Man remake, the flame-out of Ghost Rider, and the so-odd-it’s-almost-watchable Bangkok Dangerous. Sure he still rings the bell from time to time in stuff like Adaptation and World Trade Center. But even when one of his performances teeters on the precipice of is-it-great-or-goofy (See: Knowing) the question remains, “What is Nicolas Cage’s deal?”

However, when properly harnessed, Cage’s brand of bonkers can be awesome to behold—think back to Vampire’s Kiss, Wild at Heart, or Face/Off. And now here’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans to give us one helluva reminder of what Mr. H.I. McDunnough can do when he puts both his fright-wig and whirling mind to it.

New Orleans police officer Terrence McDonagh doesn’t start out completely bad in this re-visiting of Abel Ferrara’s powerfully disturbing (and infamously NC-17) 1992 Bad Lieutenant (that starred all of Harvey Keitel). But when Katrina comes along and knocks down the levees, it batters Terrence’s moral dams as well. His back injured during the flood, the newly promoted lieutenant finds himself hunched and limping, getting by on a growing diet of legal and illegal drugs, increasingly procured though questionable means. This self-medication isn’t doing his judgment any favors, either on the beat with partner Val Kilmer or with his bookie (Brad Dourif). The hurricane may have passed, but drugs, debts, issues with his high-class hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes doing terrific work), and a multiple-murder investigation aimed at a drug lord (rapper Xzibit) are forming a perfect storm around McDonagh.

What makes it all work is that this new Bad Lieutenant is directed by the great Werner Herzog, one of the few ‘70s cinematic wild men still pushing what cinema can be and do. (His films include classics in the exploration of obsession like Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, recent documentary quests for the vanishing point of harsh nature and human self-determination such as Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, and 2006’s criminally overlooked Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale and Steve Zahn as Vietnam POWs.) Cage has worked with some daring film makers—his uncle Francis, Scorsese, the Coens, Lynch, DePalma, Jonze, Stone, and, um, Bay. But pairing his bug-eyed intensity with Herzog’s German eye for insanity in a film about a good cop going, going, gone mad is one of those dream match-ups you can’t believe no one had thought of before—like taco pizzas or mega-sharks and giant octopuses.

Where the 1992 version was about a desperate grasp for redemption, Herzog and screenwriter William Finkelstein have little interest in a spiritual fall—their version is more like a NASCAR crash and just as guiltily exhilarating. Still, some trappings remain: non-stop drugs, desperate bets (this time it’s LSU instead of the Mets), and lurid abuse of the badge’s power for both half-way righteous and completely depraved purposes. Herzog takes his time letting things marinate in sleazy post-Katrina New Orleans, a city cracked open to let the swampy animal kingdom in and the human beasts out. The lieutenant’s demons take forms reptilian and aquatic, and eventually the film’s acid-fever has conjured a baby-gator-cam, iguanas that seem to croon “Release Me,” and yes, a break-dancing soul spinning at the end of Terrence’s lucky crack pipe. (This is a film so unhinged that Dourif plays one of its more stable characters.)

However, for every bit McDonough and the film appear to be losing their mutual minds, there’s a Teutonic discipline behind the gonzo. This is film making and storytelling far out at the end of the tether, but Herzog keeps it all in orbit. With Cage replacing Klaus Kinski as his unhinged muse, the director’s tapped into a rolling deranged energy— Bad Lieutenant: POCNO becomes a dark-comic travelogue through the corrupt and rotting heart of the American frontier spirit: A drug-sick Marshall Dillon consumed by the spirits of Richard Nixon and Richard the Third.

This is no “faux-seedy” cop thriller with likable stars perfectly lit against picturesque backdrops. (For starters, Herzog cares little about the actual crime being solved.) Cage starts out looking like hell and decays further into a horror-movie specimen as the film around him gets dirtier, sweatier, and more vile. His nasal gibbering becoming more Peggy Sue Got Married with every fix, the actor lurches through a landscape Tennessee Williams couldn’t have imagined without access to a meth lab.

It’s a bravado performance, made all the more impressive—and fun—because it’s always this close to self-parody. But as out of control as Terrence spins, Herzog, Cage and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans stay focused at the edge. The result is a film that does such a good job at behaving badly it swings all the way ‘round to near-greatness.

122 Responses to “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans

  1. Matt
    Posted on April 13, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I couldn’t make it over 10 minutes. I hardly ever turn off films…hell I even watched Dragon Wars to the end. This movie was HORRIBLE!

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on April 13, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Well, as Mr. Jackson says, allow me to reTORT… :)

    There’s no doubt this film is not for all tastes–whereas I was often baffled by the hatred for DISTRICT 9, I get it with BL POCNO. The film is intentionally created to push boundaries and buttons, to shock and offend, and to leave you unsure if it’s all a big put-on.

    But I want to make that point: it’s INTENTIONAL. Both on Cage’s part and on Werner Herzog’s part. You may not like what they were going after, you may feel they failed in their attempt (I happen to think they succeeded wildly), but everything has a REASON for why they did it: the acting tone, the voice, the hair, the look and feel of the film, even the iguanas and the break-dancing soul.

    If you know anything about Herzog, you just can’t say the director didn’t know what he was doing. You can argue that he FAILED to achieve what he wanted, or that what he wanted to do was WRONG, but you simply cannot accuse him of being incompetent or not knowing how to make a film. He’s been making often-brilliant films for decades–trust me, like it or not, EVERYTHING he did here–including the things that seem sloppy or flawed–was intentional.

    Same is true for Cage. He didn’t take this role for money–it probably paid him a tenth of what he’ll make for much less screen time in SORCERER’S APPRENTICE this summer. He took the role because he was in sync with what Herzog was setting out to do–and it paid off. While BL POCNO may not be a popular hit, trust me, the right people in Hollywood sat up and took notice that the Actor Nicolas Cage was back in business. (And I agree, Lisa–THE WICKER MAN is EASILY the worst Cage film ever. But PLEASE go find the ORIGINAL WICKER MAN from the early ’70s with Edward Woodward–it’s FANTASTIC)

    And to be fair, if you prefer Cage in the NATIONAL TREASURE films, then by all means this film is not for you. There’s nothing wrong with that–no one will EVER say BL POCNO is a broad-appeal film that everyone SHOULD like. The bottom line is that not all films of all styles and types are for everyone. BL POCNO is a daring, very out-there film (and yes, it is supposed to be seen as a sort of very darkly comic tragedy). There’s nothing wrong with saying “Eh, this isn’t my sort of thing–best that I skip it.”

    (Answers to a couple other statements: No, the film is not in black and white. It’s in color–if you saw it otherwise you have a bad disk, bad player, or bad TV. And yes, it was in theaters last fall on a limited release.)

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 8:25 am

    I love Nicholas Cage…..but this movie was HORRIBLE! I did watch the entire movie but I’m not quite sure why! I kept hoping that it would get better!

  3. JK
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Thank you everyone for your comment…Majority rules..I won’t rent it.

    • Currently 2/5 Stars
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 8:48 am

    If you like Cage and surreal, this is the movie. We got done watching it and just said :”Weird!!” Shades of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” with the reptiles. Not a top pick, would not rent it twice but it was an okay movie, we did not turn it off. But you will say “What the…?” when you get done.

  4. jw
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Redbox Reviewers!!
    I couldn’t make it to the end of BL either… i tried twice and after reading these reviews, i’m glad i didn’t waste any more of my time.

  5. TR
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Ditto Marianne.

    My wife and I finished the movie and thought it absolutely stunk (and we are big fans of Nicholas Cage). What a waste of time.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I sat through this movie in it’s entirety. Every painful minute of it. Most of the “crazy” scenes seemed to be just copycats from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Nichlas Cage has starred in some good films. This is not one of them. He should have walked away from this script/director.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I watched the whole movie always hoping that Cage would pull the movie up. He didn’t and I’m thinking that he never had a chance. The plot was weak and the dialog was predictable.

    There was very little actual drama for me. I have to say it was the worst NC movie I have seen. He should pay the producers and studios to take it off the market. I was a bit embarrassed for him.

  6. doug wight
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    the movie sucked, mostly due to a poorly written story and horible directing, Its odd to see some of the crap thats come out lately that somebody somewhere thinks is entertainment and simply is not… Nick-where is your dignitiy in takeing better rolls only? Pass over the poorly writen stories and was the editor sleeping on this- maybe they figured if they started cutting the bad parts that most of it would end up on the floor—I would avoid this movie like the black plauge.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm


  7. Brent
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Well, nobody mentioned the movie “Next” in comparison as a “bad Cage flick”, so now I’m intrigued. I may just rent this to see Cage and Herzog get jiggy wit it. I like them both.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 9:27 am

    This was a wildly superb movie! i get what Herzog & cage were trying to do. I have the original BL & trust me , yhis one stacks up nicely with it. A must see for Cinematic Fans……not Nic cage fans.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Julie L.
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

    i couldn’t wait until it was over.I had to shut it off.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Jimmy Bobby
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Even without leading man good looks, most of Cage’s movies are quality and well acted. This straight to dvd drivel, however, has replaced the dvd “U.S. Seals” as the all time worst ever. I resent the dollar, the unrecoverable time, wasted because during a slow release week, Redbox featured this as a must see new release. Shame, shame, shame.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    This movie was bad. I forced myself to watch it through to the end and then wondered why!

  8. della
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    this movie was awful. I usually like Nicolas Cage, but this was just down right bad

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    One of the worst movies I have seen in the last 10 years and I watch a lot. I don’t care what the director was going for, the acting was bad, and the storyline impossible. I wish I had turned the stupid thing off because now I am just really pissed off at Redbox and Hollywood.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Posted on April 16, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Nicholas Cage was horrible, this was one of worst movies I ever tried to watch…He will have to pay me to watch his next movie…I use to be a big fan now I will think twice before renting…Please save your money & pass on this one, the actors were not even acting they just seemed bored & read their lines, made no sense & Cage acting like a druggy…..sick!!

  9. Miss Andi Anderson
    Posted on April 16, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    I’ve read the comments that have come before mine. Unfortunately for some mine will be biased toward Nicholas Cage. Sadly for me there are a few of his films that I’ve had the misfortune of missing, I see. Generally speaking, I must say he hasn’t yet disappointed. I feel as though I have grown right along with his acting. Having said that, BL POCNO as well was no let down. I got it. And I enjoyed it. In my lifetime I’ve had the good/bad oppurtunity to find myself on both sides of the street. Therefore I have known ALOT of good and very bad people in both of those arenas. My career was in corrections and quite honestly… Well I think you know where that was going. You did see the movie. And having seen the movie and being a “normal” person in society, maybe twenty, thirty years ago, you’re probably aware of what street life/drugs was about. So, I definetly got it. But true enough, it’s not for everybody. Especially if ones frame of mind was on “Family Man”. Closer to his acting in this movie would have been “Match Stick Man”. As for me, I still give it TWO thumbs UP. People, People, take a chance. Don’t just go on what someone else says. If you have enjoyed some of his other movies, check this one out. Really not hard to figure out. And Nick won’t let ya down. My Man don’t Roll like that. Thanks

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on October 4, 2010 at 12:03 am

    This movie was great,those people who dislike it are either twilight fans or michael bay fans,grow up!!!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on May 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I can’t believe many people dislike this epic movie,what did they expect??? another dumb childish movie such as ghost rider??? hahahaha this is a great crime movie,for adult,not a dumb marvel movie