Sunday, May 2, 2010

Review: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call Orleans
Dir. Werner Herzog
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 122mins

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a movie isn’t close to being as fun, funny or insane as it thinks it is. Considering the original Bad Lieutenant by Abel Ferrara was released 18 years ago, it’s hard to see how Werner Herzog’s version is as shocking as it thinks it is either. Harvey Keitel’s lieutenant was doing drugs, masturbating in front of young women and abusing suspects around the same time Nicolas Cage was giving his patented crazy style of acting in much better movies such as David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. So what then, dear reader, was the point of this movie?

It’s hard to say. None of the actors are able to emerge out of the shadow that Herzog creates for Cage. Eva Mendes has nothing to do but stand around and look sultry, which is a hard thing to do given Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography is so dank and confining – while the likes of Val Kilmer and Faizura Balk just stand around with nothing to do. Jennifer Coolidge is perhaps the only actor who’s able to shine since she has the innate ability to be even more deranged than Cage and Herzog put together. The brief moments where Herzog really goes off his medication, mostly moments involving alligators and iguanas, are amusing in a broad sort of way, but feel more like token oddities rather than anything truly organic.

The actual plot of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans revolves around the trailer park shooting of a family of Senegalese refugees in the months after Hurricane Katrina. Herzog can be commended for his representation of New Orleans, he doesn’t sugarcoat this town’s misfortunes and there isn’t a pretty sight in the entire movie. As a murder mystery, however, it doesn’t even rise above the level of intrigue supplied by season 15 of Law & Order. Nor does it excite from a filmmaking point of view. None of the twists or developments feel exciting from a storytelling point of view, nor are they shown in any compelling form. Things happen and that’s about it.

Which brings me back to the lead character of Lieutenant Terence McDonagh as played by Cage. His foul behaviour is supposed to be the hook of this film, but it instead feels forced and even juvenile. I’m sure it was shocking to see Harvey Keitel strut around naked while snorting bags of cocaine whilst solving the crime of a nun being raped in the 1992 original, but in 2010 watching Nicolas Cage dive off the deep end is about as revolutionary as, well, Harvey Keitel nuding up.

And what of Nicolas Cage? A man whose tics and twitches have seemingly taken over his career and his mumbly vocals inserted itself into every performance. There isn’t anything about this performance here that we haven’t seen. Am I meant to find it better simply because he’s being directed by a man just as bonkers as he? Cage’s style perfectly fit the aforementioned Wild at Heart 20 years ago and at least that picture was stylistically on the same wavelength. And then there’s the issue of Cage’s accent, which strangely changes midway through the movie into some weird combination of Jimmy Stewart and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Ferrara’s original wasn’t even that good in the first place and even though there is no connection other than the bare strings of plot that they share, Herzog’s movie feels dated and warn out. As a movie made solely to frame Herzog and Cage’s duel wackiness around a story of ever-increasing moments of “shocking” depravity it lacks anything that can truly be described as shocking in this day and age as it plods along at a snail’s pace. Both of these men have done incredible work before, similar to that on display here, but The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a perfect example of two people being so perfect for one another that they end up cancelling each other out. Two pretty people equalling an ugly baby if you’d like a metaphor. It could be humourous if it wasn’t so ugly and putrid, both to look at and from an entertainment level. All that’s left in the end that’s truly new is a scene involving iguanas and that just isn’t enough. D

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