Werner Herzog never phones it in. Each new performance or directorial project is unmistakably his own, for better or worse (but usually for better). His latest, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, is a belfry-dwelling film that never lets off the accelerator, even when the story is in neutral. Nicolas Cage is nearly as large a disaster to New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina (which is blessedly only mentioned in brief), but I say that with the best possible intentions. To reiterate, Nicolas Cage is awesome in this movie. Somebody pinch me.
Is it a sequel? Is it a reboot or reimagining? Why does this one have "The" in the title? I never watched Abel Ferarra's Bad Lieutenant from 1992, so I can't speak about any comparisons or contrasts. But since the two appear unrelated, except for general themes, I don't feel the need to watch the other one, because I definitely won't be as impressed. I think it's naive to refer to new movies as future cult classics, but I already can't wait to start memorizing these lines. "You got me waiting 40 minutes so you can make a fucking personal phone call!" is a great example.
Terence McDonagh (Cage) is a newly appointed lieutenant, so he must be good at his job, right? He very much is, but he's just as good at lying, cursing, snorting, pill-popping, and other dubious behaviors unbecoming of law enforcement. He dates sultry prostitute Frankie (Eva Mendes), occasionally posing as her pimp. He's foolish with money, gambling it away, creating debts. He scares clubbers into giving up their drugs. He takes from evidence rooms. He's a veritable nightmare, whether you need his help or not. And Nicolas Cage plays it all perfectly, forever waggling his gun from his belt, screaming obscenities with hilarious disregard.
The story more or less centers around a case McDonagh investigates. Someone enters an African-American family's home and shoots them all in the head, execution style. A lack of evidence complicates things, but McDonagh makes it a personal vendetta to see the case through. He's sometimes joined by fellow detectives Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) or Armand Benoit (Shawn Hatosi). A witness is found (involving some quite impolite business with some elderly ladies) in grocery delivery boy Daryl (Denzel Whitaker). It's discovered that the crime may have been the fault of a criminal called Big Fate (Xzibit), and his cronies "G" (Tim Bellow) and "Midget" (Lucius Baston), but nothing can be proven.
Even as extensive as the main story gets, there are side-plots galore. McDonagh attempts to take care of a traffic ticket, via a cop played by Fairuza Balk, for his bookie, whom he also ends up owing money to. Eventually other people get involved, and it seems to work fine as a plot on its own. McDonagh and Frankie's situation becomes complicated, and she has to take shelter with his new-and-true-to-AA father Pat (Tom Bower) and his beer-swilling wife Genevieve (a make-up-free Jennifer Coolidge). This storyline is also intriguing, because neither Pat nor Genevieve are stable people. I would not want to see how crazy Terence's mother would be. And though not separate from the narrative, McDonagh's constant bad job decisions and deepening madness take on their own through-line. Oh, and there's a doggie to take care of as well. Everything works when there's a good-looking dog in the mix.
Accompanying this solid story are energetic visuals and an emotionally deft score. As mentioned, the location shots (especially on Blu-ray) are gorgeous, and Herzog's fluid direction keep the viewer embedded in the film. He drifts off in several places with reptiles stealing the point of view and overtly adding subtext. Scenes usually begin with things still and centered, but the camera is soon hovering around objects before pushing into the characters' faces. It's far from shaky-cam, but there's a mature playfulness to the way things are filmed. That said, the string-and-horn score never lets you in on the fun. The simple and rich orchestrations create a moody dread throughout. That said, they usually aren't playing behind Cage's wilder deliveries, so you're allowed to guffaw in disbelief.
One more hurrah for Nicolas Cage: Hurrah! It usually takes excellent material for Cage to shine, and this is as heavy as it is maniacal. It's a layered performance that changes depends on who he interacts with. Some of the greater scenes involve Xzibit's Big Fate. It's a shame that a genuinely enjoyable rap-actor like Xzibit gets pigeon-holed into stereotypical roles like this, but again, the material is strong. While these were my preferred characters, I can't speak ill of anyone involved, and there are a slew of roles in this movie. Mendes may be the weakest link, but it may be the character's displacement. I'll allow it.
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans is a two-hour movie that feels like a two-hour movie, because it takes you to a lot of places. A few scenes could have been trimmed, but they're straws of hay in a pile of deliciously sharp needles. Rarely does my home state of Louisiana get put into a light that doesn't involve the most ignorant fucking rednecks you can imagine, even though it's usually not like that at all. If this means our new stereotype is balls-crazy and drug-ridden, so be it.
I don't know why there aren't more features here. There's a photo album, taken by Lena Herzog, with over a hundred or so shots that she took from the production. I don't tend to care for photo-features, but there wasn't a dull picture in this bunch. I found myself wanting many of them as posters to tack on the walls of my childhood bedroom.
There's a half-hour making-of doc that is well worth watching. After a brief overlook on the film, many separate days of shooting are singled out, both for the shots involved and for the problems that arose while filming them. It's always nice to see a director having so much fun on a film, rather than being stifled and obnoxious. And after the alternate trailer, there's nothing else. Far be it for me to take you from the lovely hi-def, but I'm not sure the Blu-ray is worth the extra few bucks, though the movie itself is, if that makes any sense.