Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
Published May 17 2010, 00:00 BST | By Stella Papamichael Nicolas Cage
acts bonkers at the best of times so being directed by Werner Herzog is a little like trying to put a fire out with petrol. The German filmmaker behind leftfield classics like Fitzcarraldo
(1982) and the haunting Grizzly Man
(2005) continues to be fascinated with macho male compulsions, but he struggles against the framework of a classic detective story in Bad Lieutenant
. As the corrupt cop who is slowly unravelling, Cage acts badly on several levels and Herzog tries to make a virtue of it. It's as if the world has gone mad and you're being asked to beat 'em or join 'em.
With that in mind, New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seems like the ideal setting. The water is still rising when we meet Lieutenant Terence McDonagh who flips from bad cop to good cop in deciding whether to release a crook from a rapidly flooding jail cell. It's a sharp opener and, for a while, the question mark over his judgement hangs well, alongside the unfolding investigation into a murdered illegal immigrant. He is relentless in the pursuit of local drugs baron Big Fate (Xzibit) who appears to have ordered the hit amidst a raging turf war. But it's also a conflict of interest for McDonagh who is an addict himself.
McDonagh is soon swayed from his mission in order to snort coke with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and to find ways of keeping the supply flowing. He's already in debt to his bookie, swiping goods from the evidence room and shaking down junkies and clubbers; mostly promiscuous young women. His efforts to feed the habit range from funny to sickening, but there's rarely a glimpse of any guilt, which makes the character rather less involving than the Bad Lieutenant
played by Harvey Keitel in the 1992 film of the same name, minus the hyphenated suffix. In fact the connection between these two films is as loose as the screws in Cage's head and watching them rattle around is only fun for so long.
After letting a vital witness get away, McDonagh hits a steep downward spiral and the film becomes less focussed. The murder investigation drops into the background and the story gets bogged down with McDonagh trying to pay off his debts, save his girlfriend from the mafia, reach an accord with his drunken dad and find someone to babysit a dog. All this and trying to score his next high. Herzog slows the pace even more, going off on surreal tangents such as an especially weird (though it has to be said, amusing) face-off between a stoned McDonagh and an incongruous iguana set to music. In another scene, the action is seen from the point-of-view of an alligator.
Herzog brings the story back to Big Fate in the final stretch, but by this time, it's purely academic. McDonagh is also pitted against a fellow officer (a cocky type played by Val Kilmer), but it's hardly worth mentioning because he barely gets any screen time before this. In fact, the iguana gets more close-ups than Kilmer and that just doesn't seem right. Everything about the film is off-balance and, though some of that is intentional, it doesn't excuse the flagging pace or slackening tension. This is, after all, a thriller. Herzog has unique flair, but it's out of synch with the genre. As for Cage, he is a flailing madman and the only polite thing to do is look away.> What do you think of the movie? Share your views