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USA 2009
Directed by
Werner Herzog
122 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

I must say I’ve never thought much of Abel Ferrera’s 1992 Bad Lieutenant which is regarded in some critical quarters very highly and has managed to garner itself cult status. So it's no surprise that I don’t understand why anyone would want to remake it. I understand even less why anyone would get Werner Herzog, an exemplary documentarian and art-house film-maker to direct what looks to be a typical genre film. 

Producer Edward R. Pressman was also producer on the original film but as I understand it this version is Herzog’s and star Nicolas Cage’s baby. Although Ferrera and his  co-writers are credited for the original screenplay, there are those who claim that Port Of Call New Orleans, Herzog’s preferred title for the film, is not a remake of the original. That seems pretty hard to swallow. William Finkelstein's script may have a completely different stting but let’s face it, the film is about a very badly behaving. potty-mouthed police lieutenant who snorts coke, steals, gambles and extracts sexual favours from his victims. The only real difference in this respect is that Cage’s Terence McDonagh actually does some police work. Notwithstanding Herzog and Cage do manage to take the film in a different direction both humanizing their protagonist and infusing proceedings with some wryly amusing surreality

The film trundles along reasonably conventionally for a while as its tracks McDonagh’s fall from grace in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina during which he sustains a back injury that leaves him with chronic pain and an escalating dependence on pain-killing drugs. He’s losing his shirt to his bookie and his hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes) gets him involved in a confrontation with a client with Mob connections who wants him to pony up 50 large. It’s all unremarkably, if a bit schematically, delivered by Herzog until a scene when McDonagh is trying to fix a speeding ticket for his bookie’s kid and the camera's POV switches to that of an alligator hiding by the roadside. The reptilian motif is revisitedwhen McDonagh hallucinates an iguana singing Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Please Release Me”.And if that curve ball wasn't enough
a bit later Herzog throws in a break-dancing corpse.

Cage fans will relish his Klaus Kinski-meets-Harvey Keitel over-the-top performance one can’t help but if you’re a Val Kilmer fan, don’t expect much. The actor gets a good billing (which presumably also means a nice paycheck) but he is barely seen, getting one close-up about 40 minutes in then largely disappearing for the rest of the movie.

Once reaching its outer limit, the plot grows incongruously cheery as with facile ease it wraps up everything in McDonagh’s favour, or as the coda show us, not really.  Or maybe yes. The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, which benefits from a bluesy score by Mark Isham, is worth checking out for lovers of off-beat fare




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