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Bad Lieutenant riotous, enigmatic fun
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Bad Lieutenant riotous, enigmatic fun

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Now Playing


The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans may be the most interesting film you've never heard of this year. That's unfortunate because there's a lot going on in this weird remake of an odd original. Director Werner Herzog is still obsessed with the struggle between humankind and the forces of nature, this time with his darkly arcane sense of humor in full play. Nicholas Cage plays crazy with his usual crazy verve, multiplied by 10.

The Bad Lieutenant: PCNO was released November 25. Nicholas Cage stars as a drug-addled cop fighting crime in the Big Easy as the city attempts to resurrect itself in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. It's been two weeks since the release, and scant praise or condemnation can be found in the ubiquitous 21st-century media. So what's up?

I've always considered Herzog an amazing auteur. His early narrative work (Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Fitscarraldo, and Nosferatu the Vampyre stand out) is terrific, and Herzog has always been an excellent documentarian. If you doubt the latter, check out My Best Fiend, Grizzly Man, or Encounters at the End of the World.

To recap: I think Herzog is an excellent documentarian who has made a number of fascinating narrative films.

That brings us back to The Bad Lieutenant: PCNO. This is a good movie. This is a fun movie. This is a movie with a wicked sense of humor. Nicholas Cage is over-the-top as the crack-smoking, vicodin-munching, egomaniacal cop with a gambling problem and a hooker girlfriend. He also has a fluid moral code that slides easily between situational and antinomian ethics. Frighteningly, the bad lieutenant never concerns himself with the limitations of legalistic ethics - not the sensibility we prize in our peace officers.

The bad lieutenant's antics take place in the heart of the devastation that used to be New Orleans. Herzog draws a rotting carcass of a city infested with scaly creatures and overrun by swampy vegetation. The topiary doesn't stand a chance against the forces of nature, a familiar Herzog theme. We humans can keep these forces at bay for a while, but in the end (in Herzog's world), nature always wins.

Though Cage gifts us with a dicey performance brimming with crazy, it's the supporting actors who do the best work here. Xzibit, rapper/actor/host of Pimp My Ride, is surprisingly awesome as the lieutenant's drug dealing ally. Lucius Bastion, Jennifer Coolidge, and Tony Bentley all turn in great performances in small but pivotal roles. And Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings) gets a shot at better material than he's accustomed to and he makes the most of it.

That brings us back to the original question: Why hasn't this movie gotten better press? We have a film controversially based on a character from another film that's a cult classic (the original Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel) directed by a gifted, if quirky director with a spotty history of narrative filmmaking. We have an A-list star known for a few odd choices in movie roles, some of which work (Wild at Heart) and some of which don't (Ghost Rider, Face/Off). We have an excellent supporting cast, a compelling setting, and story that holds up nicely even if it makes you feel yucky inside. So, why hasn't this movie gotten better press?

The bottom line: I don't think folks know what to do with Herzog or Cage. They are both enigmatic characters in the movie world. The film itself is enigmatic from its inception (is it a remake, a revision, a sequel?). Frankly, I don't know what to make of it myself. I only know the flick was riotous good fun and that you should check it out quickly because I don't think it will be around much longer.

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