Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer (121 min).
Typically, when Nicolas Cage is allowed to go off the reservation in a film, the result is entertaining if anything. I love my Cage when he’s bat shit insane (see: Face/Off, Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona and, to an extent, Leaving Las Vegas), but for some reason, in Werner Herzog’s new crime drama, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, his zaniness, and the entire film, fails to ever be cohesive or entertaining in any sort of memorable way.
There was much interesting controversy surrounding Herzog’s “reimagining” of the 1992 Abel Ferrara film that shares really a name and nothing else. Ferrara has been quoted as, basically, wishing everyone involved with this new version would die. The new version has Cage as Terrance McDonagh, a good cop who develops a back problem, one that gradually cripples him to a point where he spends the entire film hunched slightly and turning from side to side as if in an invisible neck brace. This is apparently the gateway to Terry developing an addiction to harder drugs like crack and heroin, drugs that he gets from time to time by shaking down club goers and lowlifes.
The plot of Bad Lieutenant involves the murder of five people in a house, but the actual drive and purpose of this plotline is so underdeveloped and vapid that the details surrounding it are of no consequence at all. All I know is that it involves swindling a local drug kingpin played by Xibit (never a good sign with him in your movie) and a series of half baked plot devices placed there simply to make the story move forward. Half of them are so coincidental it's embarrassing. And perhaps this is the point, as the film’s central focus is the deterioration of Cage’s character, not any type of cohesive plot. Which brings about another problem or two: this bad lieutenant isn’t really that interesting, or that bad to be honest.
Of course he smokes crack, does heroin, and gets in debt with the bookies (the only real similarity to the Harvey Keitel character from the original film), but none of his actions ever feel threatening or as dark as they should. These things McDonagh are doing are serious, no doubt, but the neutered, glossed over way Herzog decides to film everything takes any grit out of the picture and leaves the audience at arm’s length from the action. I kept wanting Cage’s character to take that next step, to take his extreme behavior to that next level that I know he is capable of, but it never happens. Even when the reigns are off Cage’s character, those moments feel absolutely forced.
Aside from the murder McDonagh is trying to solve, he is also trying to deal with his drug-addicted prostitute girlfriend – Eva Mendes, still showing that it is abundantly clear she cannot act – his bookie connection, and a group of gangsters who need money from him for, well, something I don’t really remember. Mainly because it makes no difference, their motivation. Motivation is not really an angle of psychological make-up in these characters that ever gets explored.
Cage is decent here, but at times he looks rather bored with a film that is rather boring. Val Kilmer as his partner is a complete waste, adding nothing to the overall framework. Despite a few spots of promise and the occasional dry wit, the screenplay never really explores a character that really needs to be explored in order to make the film interesting. The entire endeavor feels like a bit of a miscalculation, or a good idea on paper that never really delivers on screen. As I said before, Herzog adds nothing fresh to the camera work of the look of the picture. And he never really employs the stylistic prominence of New Orleans. This could have been filmed anywhere. There are a few curious moments where we focus on iguanas or alligators with a few inexplicable tight shots on the reptile’s faces, but those don’t really make sense in a film that is otherwise shot without any flair of character.