Movies: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans * * * *
(18, limited release)
It would take a better man than me to figure out the connection between this sprawling Werner Herzog film and Abel Ferrera's 1992 thriller Bad Lieutenant. Both feature corrupt but not irredeemable cops with serious drug habits, but apart from that Herzog makes no attempt to connect his movie with Ferrera's, and this bad lieutenant plies his trade not in New York but New Orleans.
When I mention the fact that the notoriously nutty German director has cast Master Nicolas Cage in the lead role, your thoughts will immediately turn to car crashes, but somehow the Herzog/Cage collaboration turns out to be a marriage made in heaven, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a predictably eccentric but hugely enjoyable film.
Cage is Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop whom we first meet in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He and his partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) are at a station house picking up one of their colleagues' possessions when they hear cries from the basement. A prisoner has been left in a flooded cell, and will shortly drown if not rescued. McDonagh and Pruit laugh at him, and Pruit seems prepared to leave him to drown, but McDonagh jumps into the water and saves the man.
In doing so, he badly injures his back and becomes addicted first to painkillers and then to cocaine, which he sportingly shares with his hooker girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes). He's no saint, then, and when his drug habit lands him in serious debt to some very nasty underworld types, McDonagh finds his investigation into a multiple murder seriously compromised.
We all know what a ferocious ham Cage can be, and how he tends, when insufficiently entertained by a film or script, to sail wildly and gleefully over the top, but in Herzog's crazy, drug-fuelled thriller his strange tics and manic energy become an advantage.
McDonagh is a serious drug addict, out of his head most of the time on cocaine and heroin, and his manic humour and sudden crazy outbursts become all too believable.
Cage delivers his best performance in years as the unstable but oddly winning bent cop, who remains a deeply ambiguous character right until the very end.
There's a mad energy to Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans that makes it utterly compelling, and every other cop thriller that comes along this year is going to seem very dull by comparison.