The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

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

"Who are you?"
"I'm the last person in the world you want me to be."

Yo dawg, I heard you like drugs, so we put drugs in your drugs so you can do drugs while you do drugs.

Though in no way a sequel or remake, Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans obviously cannot help but be compared to Abel Ferrara's divisive thriller of decades ago of similar name and themes. Hilariously, after Ferrara hated this movie and literally wished death upon those who made it, Herzog replied he'd "never seen a film by him" and that he has "no idea who he is." You cheeky German! Classic Herzog. Switching from the mean streets of New York to the seedy alleys of the namesake Louisiana city, a corrupt cop is at his wit's end, and we're along for the ride.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Police Lieutenant Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) has received a commendation for rescuing a prisoner in a flooded jail, but injures himself severely while doing so, leading to pain a doctor says he'll have to manage on opioids for life. Now addicted, and on other drugs, a half year later his partner Detective Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) sees the toll it's taking, but McDonagh's girlfriend Frankie Donnenfeld (Eva Mendes) keeps bringing him cocaine anyway. Addiction runs in the family, as his father Pat (Tom Bower) and stepmother Genevieve (Jennifer Coolidge) are both alcoholics.

A horrific quintuple homicide of Senegalese immigrants rocks the city, connected to drug-selling gangs in the roughest part of Nola. McDonagh is in charge, but gets in over his head with his addiction spiraling out of control and drug evidence he has taken from the department, losing the cover of low-ranking Officer Mundt (Michael Shannon). When his bookie Ned (Brad Dourif) also asks him to pay up, McDonagh is at the end of his rope.

Again, you have to compare the two movies. How can you not? Where Ferrara's film is brilliant for simply burrowing deeper into psychopathy and never veering from the central figure even for a moment, one could argue that Herzog may have been a little too ambitious in William Finkelstein's script, casting a wider net with another dozen vital named characters -- and the man, the myth, the meme himself Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner -- constantly pulling and pushing the Lieutenant beyond his means. It's effective, if possibly with an effect that's deleterious to keeping a laser focus on him.

That said, this is Werner Herzog, so I am predisposed to like it. Some of his narrative movies are nowhere near as good as many of his documentaries, but obviously he has a couple of stone cold legendary ones in Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Stroszek. This is decidedly second tier Herzog, but that means it's better than a lot of everything else.

Herzog and Finkelstein ditch the bleak nihilism of Ferrara's vision, and lean towards black comedy as one cannot help but laugh at the wild circumstances whereupon the Cage gets to rage. As Cameron wrote, it means the plot gets a little convoluted, the script a little talky, and the filler a little too drug out. Though it's shot impeccably by Peter Zeitlinger in an elegiac frame, with ever increasing focus on the Lieutenant's implosion and a couple memorable reptile-adjacent angles for the hell of it.

But this is Nic Cage's world and we're just living in it, and he's probably the sole reason to watch Bad Lieutenant as the downward spiral really commences in the final hour of this a-little-bit-too-long movie. He's not afraid to get weird, get dirty, get angry, get foul-mouthed, get shitfaced, and get way too deep. Where Harvey Keitel really was more of a sociopath in his film, Cage honestly just isn't that great at his job. He's a bad lieutenant, for sure. He gets so strung out that his voice changes, oddly, out of nowhere, with a bizarre combination of Edward G. Robinson and his own nasal fry in Peggy Sue Got Married. Then, it disappears 20 minutes later. What?

That's what I take from this wild, inconsistent, but extremely interesting and engaging feature. It's fun, all over the place, and surreal absurdism. There are probably 20 better Werner Herzog films and documentaries, but this one's worth watching too.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: Ewan Gleadow.

Added to Werner Herzog ranked.
Removed from What's on My DVR?

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