Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

2009, R, 121 min. Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Xzibit, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Tom Bower.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009

I think I had more fun watching Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (twice) than I did at any other movie this year. The singular talents of director Herzog and star Cage coalesce here into something mercurial, creating a movie that is mutable, unpredictable, and, above all, original. That’s saying a lot, because fears were high that this unsanctioned overstepping of Abel Ferrara’s brilliant and harrowing Bad Lieutenant of 1992, which starred Harvey Keitel in the title role, might wind up looking like a case of unjustified trespass. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, however, is not a sequel, prequel, remake, or follow-up. The script by William M. Finkelstein, a seasoned TV writer on numerous police procedurals, is its own beast (iguana, to be exact). Finkelstein’s “bad lieutenant” is bad in many of the same ways as Ferrara’s (rampant cocaine and narcotics use, gambling addiction, and flagrant abuse of the badge), but gone are the Catholic guilt, the New York City streets, and the naked, howling Keitel. The new film is set in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The devastation of the city offers a visual corollary to the wreckage of the soul. Cage is Terence McDonagh, a police lieutenant who is prescribed a lifetime supply of Vicodin at the start of the movie to relieve the pain of an injury sustained in the line of duty. He has a foxy callgirl girlfriend named Frankie (Mendes) and a tough murder mystery to solve. In this film, Cage delivers on the promise of his early career, back before he became an action hero and professional oddball. His performance is constantly surprising, outrageous, controlled, and electric: “cagey” to the max. Odd scenes lead to even weirder scenes; the character and the movie seem to be on the constant verge of going off the rails, and it’s a gas to watch. By the time a pair of hallucinatory iguanas start singing “Please Release Me,” you’re either in for the whole ride or not. The film continues its high-wire act all the way though to its non sequitur conclusion. However, I find it disconcerting to be so entertained by a movie in which the central arc details a story of debasement and redemption. The laughter generated by the film’s eccentricities creates a lot of distance between McDonagh and the viewer. Never do we roll in the swamp with the iguanas; they are always pictured from a comical remove. Still, this is the best performance Cage has delivered in ages, and Herzog demonstrates, once again, that he is capable of virtually anything. (See "The Big Seedy," Dec. 11, for an interview with Herzog.)

READ MORE
More Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
The Big Seedy
The Big Seedy
Werner Herzog talks about his eccentric tour de farce, 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'

Marc Savlov, Dec. 11, 2009

More Werner Herzog
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of 'Heart of Glass'
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass
How to explain the genius of Werner Herzog?

Marc Savlov, May 4, 2012

In Print
Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of 'Fitzcarraldo'
The filming of Werner Herzog's 1982 epic, Fitzcarraldo, in the Amazonian depths of Peru seemed mythically doomed from its inception

Audra Schroeder, Sept. 18, 2009

More Werner Herzog
What Would Werner Do?
What Would Werner Do?
New to home viewing: A feast of Herzog, ‘Zero Charisma’

Kimberley Jones, April 8, 2014

From the Vaults: Herzog's Ecstasy of Truth
From the Vaults: Herzog's Ecstasy of Truth
Werner Herzog on documentary filmmaking

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 1, 2013

More Werner Herzog Films
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Werner Herzog goes down the internet rabbit hole

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 2, 2016

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Werner Herzog focuses on Siberian fur trappers in his latest documentary.

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 1, 2013

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Mustang Island
A deft millennial comedy of manners

Nov. 17, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Frances McDormand gives a searing performance as vengeance personified

Nov. 17, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog, Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Xzibit, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Tom Bower

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)