The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans ★★★½

Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films (5) challenge.

Going in, this supposed remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 "Bad Lieutenant" held two big attractions for me ... the City of New Orleans portrayed post-Katrina and director Werner Herzog making it happen. To a lesser degree, I was also looking forward to seeing Eva Mendes strut her stuff as call girl Frankie Donnenfield. And I usually like Val Kilmer, who plays police detective Stevie Pruit.

Unfortunately, all those plus points were pretty much negated by Nicolas Cage acting just like Nicolas Cage ... obnoxious, conceited, self-centered, arrogant, chauvinistic ... which probably made him the perfect choice for drug-, sex- and gambling-addicted "bad lieutenant" Terence McDonagh. The actor just turns my stomach.

Fortunately, Herzog manages to make the Big Easy one of the main characters in the film, but it's a city that's hurting rather than healing. We see the poverty and displacement, the hopelessness and insensitivity of a populace that's lost just about everything and then loses even more to gang violence, turf wars and drug-related killings.

The central case in this crime drama is the execution-style massacre of five African immigrants. The cops know who is responsible, but it's going to take extra effort to pin the rap on the elusive neighborhood kingpin known as Big Fate (Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner).

Due to a stupidly heroic "accident" early in the film, McDonagh has career-threatening chronic back pain that he controls with over-medication. He uses prescription pain-killers plus cocaine and even some heroin here and there. He scores his illegal meds with the help of friendly evidence-room guards and unsuspecting johns and their prostitutes, whom he shakes down for pills, powder and sexual favors. This, mind you, is the guy the police department gives medals and promotions to.

Surprisingly for a remake, and in spite of Cage just acting naturally bad on screen, the film won Herzog the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Special Award at the Venice Film Festival. I have less respect for the Toronto Film Critics Association, who bestowed their Best Actor Award on the bad boy of the extended Coppola clan.

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