Monday, 14 June 2010

James Bower reviews The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Dir. Werner Herzog, USA, 2009, cert. 18, 122 mins

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit

Imagine Joaquin Phoenix’s confusion as, some years ago, Werner Herzog famously dragged him from the upturned wreck of his car. How must that feel?

Probably very similar to watching The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. It’s dark and frightening. Everything's upside-down and back-to-front. But there’s a serendipitous German to help put things right.

Is this what it takes to coax a decent performance out of Nicholas Cage? There’s no wonder then, that we don’t see it more often. The Bad Lieutenant is arrestingly peculiar. Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a cop in post-Katrina New Orleans. A crazy cop. A junkie cop. A scathing critique of drug culture? More like Requiem for a dream starring Frank Spencer.

Oh yes. It’s a comedy. You’d be forgiven for expecting something different. The Bad Lieutenant is not an easy film to market. Because it’s crazy. Crazy like a fox!

A clown who’s swapped his custard pie and giant hanky for gun and a crack pipe, Terence is obscene and pitiful. He may once have been a good lieutenant, but his bad back has led to an addiction to painkillers. Then to other drugs. All of them. But despite his flaws, Terence is no chump. His state of mind seldom brushes the outer reaches of lucidity, but somehow

he’s playing the entire world for a fool. The flooded shell of his life is held together by a fragile and oddly beautiful network of lies. His captain (a hilariously naive spin on the Angry Black Sarge) thinks he’s the best cop on the force and he’s dating Frankie (Mendes), a beautiful drug-addled hooker. Tasked with solving a multiple homicide, Terence sets out to paint the town red and blue.

In the post-Katrina apocalypse, up is down, black is white and The Bad Lieutenant is a buddy cop movie; Terence’s ‘buddy’ is Big Fate (Xzibit), a local drug lord with whom he plans to build holiday homes. It’s also a family comedy. Terence finds himself on a road trip with a sulky teenager (somebody call Ice Cube!) and the dog from Marley and me. And it’s a nature documentary: a hallucination causes Terence to see invisible reptiles in the middle of a stakeout. As the wobbly camera gazes lovingly at a blinking iguana, the soundtrack croons ‘Please release me’ and a blurry Cage stands in the background, glancing towards the audience and smiling awkwardly. It was at this moment that I mentally cast him to star in a big-screen adaptation of Alan Partridge.

Cage is funny as hell. He delivers his second great performanc

e in a year, tapping a reservoir of talent I thought he’d crapped in long ago. Or maybe he’s simply flipped. I couldn’t tell. Wracked with back pain, Terence lurches around the topsy-turvy big easy like an angry scarecrow, scouring crime scenes for anything he can swallow, snort or smoke. His drug addiction may be competing with his gambling problem for control of his shattered body. But when he mumbles threats though his permanently clenched teeth, you damn well better take this joker seriously. Despite telecommuting from another galaxy, Terence still brings in more than his fair share of bad guys. Is he the world’s cleverest, most tenacious junkie? Or is he a genuine supercop with an unfortunate powder problem? It’s never totally clear, but Cage’s truly bizarre turn keeps you guessing right to the end. Which is one big, awesome twist.

The Bad Lieutenant has ‘cult classic’ written all over it, and will most likely do for Cage what Lebowski did for Bridges. Tempered with just enough sobriety to keep it from tumbling headlong into a smirking parody, it’s well-shot and the weirdest thing you’ll see for quite some time. Herzog turns a mundane tale of bent cops and co

ke into an almost British comedy of embarrassment. Terence is a hypnotic creation made up almost entirely of tics and quirks. Eyes rolling in his skull like a fruit machine, Cage is rivetingly unhinged, and seems to realise that in Herzog he has a director who will actively encourage his lunatic side.

Bad lieutenant. Good film. Excellent iguana.



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