Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cage's go-for-it performance something to see in "Bad Lieutenant"

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009) 
122 min., rated R.

For the past few years, you may have noticed Nicolas Cage going insane in his fair share of awful paycheck movies. To refresh your memory, he pranced around in a bear costume, cold-cocked Leelee Sobieski, and delivered some howlingly bad lines with hilariously unrestrained gusto. But in "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans," a loose remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara-Harvey Keitel cult film, Cage's great, go-for-it performance makes for one deliriously crazy, whacked-out hell. 

If you think you know corrupt-cop movies, you don't: New Orleans homicide detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) satisfies his Vicodin, marijuana, and heroine addictions after getting hooked on painkillers from suffering a back injury. Eva Mendes comes and goes as the nutso's equally doped-up prostitute girlfriend, Frankie, who's happy when she's high. Throughout William Finkelstein's screenplay, there's uninvolving plot business involving the murder of African immigrants and the investigation into a gang, but the movie is not concerned much with that. 

More than your standard cop-crime thriller, "Bad Lieutenant" (abbreviated from its overworked title) is an entertainingly bonkers character study of hypocrisy, corruption, and addiction that doesn't go in expected directions. Director Werner Herzog stimulates us with flamboyantly off-kilter visuals that mirror the one-man-show's unhinged mind, as he imagines some iguanas on a coffee table, shot in acid-head close-up, keeping the film just gonzo enough without turning McDonagh into Hunter S. Thompson. Cage must have become the Al Pacino of Troubled Souls, as his off-the-wall, hyper-manic man with a badge has to be seen to believe; he goes belligerant toward two older ladies, cutting the oxygen supply of one and screaming inappropriately at the other (“You're the fucking reason this country is going down the drain!”), or going insane in a pharmacy out of sheer impatience to get his fix. But Cage doesn't camp it up; the character calls for it. On-location shooting in post-Katrina New Orleans is spiked with local color and mood by Peter Zeitlinger's cinematography and Mark Isham's modern-noir score. 

General audiences won't know what to think, but because of Cage and Herzog outcrazing each other, "Bad Lieutenant" should pay off for more adventurous viewers, or if you're on narcotics, too.

Grade: B -

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