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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Blu-ray Review)

5 Apr, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 4/6/10
First Look
Box office $1.7 million
$28.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for drug use and language throughout, some violence and sexuality.
Stars Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Jennifer Coolidge.

With a few exceptions (and 2003’s Matchstick Men certainly remains a major one), Nicolas Cage’s 1995 Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas doesn’t seem to have done him a world of good when it has come to choosing roles Oscars sometimes make possible.

The prototypical Cage movie of recent years would seem to be Ghost Rider: a Marvel Comics hero on a flying motorcycle cascaded with flames — in a movie where its studio took a not-on-your-life approach over screening it in advance for the press before it opened.

But director Werner Herzog’s loose Bad Lieutenant remake is something else again, even though I stumbled last fall into an argumentative Facebook donnybrook perpetrated by someone who thought it a desecration to fool around with Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Bad Lieutenant predecessor starring Harvey Keitel. Yeah, right — as if this were a case of someone plunking Michael Cera into a remake of, say, Casablanca, The Third Man or The Searchers.

Herzog’s immediate post-Katrina riff had me from the get-go, with its opening shot of a determined water moccasin snaking in and around half-submerged prison bars as an inmate ponders his imminent drowning, if not biting. After a little half-sadistic teasing, cop Cage rescues him, and — just how, we’re not quite shown — seriously and possibly permanently injures his vertebrae and gets prescribed Vicodin.

Of course, with regular cocaine chasers, this tends to make Cage unhinged — and, as we all know, “unhinged” is something Cage can do on a dime whether the movie necessarily calls for it or not. In this case, it does, and Lieutenant soon becomes a contest to see who can become more crazed: Cage himself — as he begins to speak the name of a suspect named “G” in three syllables — or the array of sociopaths and malcontents who cross his path.

Cage has a prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), which means he regularly has to mix it with some truly nasty dudes even by her professional standards. He also has to interrogate an old lady who’s on oxygen, so there goes the oxygen; females he busts have to come forth with their purse stash — and even sex; and he lands smack into the middle a domestic fracas between his father and a new younger wife who’s depressed at having married an alcoholic. She’s not, of course, because she only drinks beer — albeit maybe 50 a day.

What makes the movie increasingly funny (and intentionally so, make no mistake) is that the further we go, the more we see we’re on the way to a tidy and even happy resolution — though via a twisted path where the  “i’s” are often crossed and the “t’s” dotted. The past five years have been exceptionally kind to Herzog (or maybe he to us) with this film and the also fictional Rescue Dawn — plus two documentaries that got more consistent or even unequivocal praise: Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World.

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