Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

I’ve been wanting to see Nicholas Cage go full-on crazy for while now. I’m talking late 80’s, early 90’s freak-outs like Wild at Heart and Vampire Kiss. Too many generic action movies have made Cage a bit soft. I know he’s a big star, but he makes 10 movies a year it seems like, one could be nutzo bananas.

So, I had high hopes for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call. I vaguely remember the first movie from 20-odd years ago with Harvey Keitel, a mess of drugs, sex and bad behavior. Plus, director Werner Herzog’s a good director with some adventurous tendencies. The cast also seemed hopeful–Val Kilmer needs to go psycho every once in a while, Joukim Phoenix is having an oddball year, and Brad Douriff is reliably crazy. Boy, Crispin Glover, where are you?

Bad Lieutenant is an amiable enough of a failure. Everyone does fine in the picture, but the movie never really gains enough weird momentum. It needs to go to eleven, but stops at, say, seven. Nick Cage is a nice assembly of strange ticks, the pained walk, the sad-dog puss you see above, a mumbly delivery and occasional sharp turns into wild-eyed manic territory. Unfortunately, the film seems a bit shy to let that freak flag fly. There’s a few oddball drug-fueled moments, usually involving iguanas and alligators.
The whole final third should have had the nervy energy of the last third of Goodfellas, but only hinted at it.
Plus, the ending is a giant 180. I can’t talk about it, but I must say I was surprised and not really in a good way. I honestly thought it was a dream sequence.

Ok, Nick Cage is a bad lieutenant. He does drugs, gambles, blackmails girls for sex, but at least he won’t murder. And he does care about his job. Generally, he does these things for what he thinks are good reasons. The TV show, The Shield, did this conflicted character study much better. (Granted, they had more time.) In the first half of the film, his smaller crimes don’t really work out and compound into bigger problems. These bigger problems cause him to go darker and be a badder lieutenant. The central murder mystery is generic, but the post-Katrina Nawlins backdrop (a new sub-genre of film) is used well, especially in the poorer areas of town.

I do like Nick Cage’s slightly mannered weird performance. He seems like a alien, especially up against rapper Xzibit’s subdued bad guy and a more earthy performance by Eva Mendes as his call girl girlfriend. (She’s in lingerie in one scene, so that’s a plus.)

At the end of the day, this movie sets up a promise to take a journey to crazytown and sort of backs away from committing on all levels–story, acting and directing. Maybe I’m jaded and others will find Port of Call New Orleans completely captivating, but I just wanted more.

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