BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, a deliciously twisted crimebath from 2009, starring Nicolas Cage, directed by Werner Herzog, is neither sequel or remake of the repulsive 1992 slimefest with Harvey Keitel, sharing only the corrupted cop motif and an officer as protagonist. Possibly the clue-cluttered title won out over a more apt alternate: “Cage or Herzog: Who’s Crazier?”
New Orleans cop ‘Terence McDonagh’ (Cage) is injured performing a rescue during Hurricane Katrina, but while the gutsy act sees him promoted it also results in addiction to painkillers. To that add fondness for illegal drugs, family hassles, a hooker girlfriend, tampering with evidence, a gambling debts, inciting gangsters, and working in tandem with ruthless drug dealers. All while trying to solve murder cases. Sleep is for security guards.
With the remake of The Wicker Man in 2006, Cage began cranking out lame movies on an industrial scale. In between the junk, he did/does manage something worthwhile on occasion; this wild ride is, as of 2021, the best of four dozen projects in the preceding 14 years. Watching Cage explode on screen has always been a kick, and his strung-out detective here goes spectacularly bonkers. While there’s little remotely close to actual police procedure in Herzog’s compelling, vile-driving plunge into the ethical dumpster, it moves well, has a slick soundtrack (Mark Isham) and Cage’s rages are backed by a ripe gallery of slimy characters that give a colorful supporting cast room to groove. High marks go to Eva Mendez as his callgirl squeeze, Brad Dourif as a flustered bookie, Fairuza Balk (always welcome, and too rarely seen) as a sex-bomb lady cop, and most impressively, Jennifer Coolidge, stellar-honest as a drunken stepmom from the parish of Do Not Go There.
William M. Finklestein wrote the script, appropriately profane, but smart enough to not run f-bombs into the ground (or bayou) like so many cheese-grating crime flick screenwriters are wont to do. A savvy scribe of many TV crime stories, to date this remains his only feature film.
Extra supporting oomph is courtesy of Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Tom Bower, Shea Wigham, Michael Shannon, Irma P. Hall, Lucius Baston, Katie Chonacas.
Though reviews were strong, crowds were sparse: the $25,000,000 invested went down the drain at 185th place in the been-there-already homeland, taking but $1,702,000, part of a global gross of $10,606,000. 122 minutes.