(2009)2Phillip MaherIs it possible to write a raving two-star review? With this bewildering chimera of a movie, Werner Herzog has proven that he is incapable of making a boring film. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans succeeds brilliantly as failure, as Herzog and the terrifically inept Nicolas Cage manipulate the conventions of the police genre for their own personal amusement, foregoing the standard tedium of inflated narrative tension and score-driven suspense in favor of moments of delirious dissonance and peculiar humor.
The film's relation to its predecessor, Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, is never quite clear, other than the presence of a police protagonist with a penchant for cheap sex, expensive drugs, and gambling on sports. Cage hobbles through the title role of Lieutenant Terence McDonagh like a crackhead Quasimodo, ingesting a chemical mélange of substances to stave off the pain of a chronic back injury as he tries to solve the brutal slaying of a Senegalese family in New Orleans. Cage visibly sheds charisma as the film progresses, devolving from a cocky showboat cop into a squawking dope who desperately projects false bravado and periodically erupts with awkward bursts of incoherent gibberish. Herzog gleefully feeds his scene-chewing star, adding to the already hallucinatory atmosphere of New Orleans with some incongruous iguanas, one alligator carcass, and the incomparable Brad Dourif. Val Kilmer makes an appearance, confirming rumors that he is still alive, and Eva Mendes smolders quite adequately as McDonagh's requisite prostitute/girlfriend.
Herzog drives the preposterous plot off the rails early, and then begins discarding seemingly essential narrative elements like ballast from a sinking ship. For instance, while McDonagh is in the midst of a heated interrogation, trying to locate an elusive suspect, the wanted man simply walks into the police station and surrenders. Later, a key witness to the crime vanishes from McDonagh's custody, and is quickly forgotten. Herzog shreds the potboiler drama like wrapping paper, unveiling absurd little gifts like a twitching close-up of the aforementioned iguanas, an obnoxious arcade machine that mechanically chants, "Insert more coins! Insert more coins!" -- and 2009's most quotable movie line: "Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing." As the convoluted delta of assorted plotlines empty into a glimmering gulf of a finale, Herzog manages to skewer both the Hollywood happy ending and the Bush administration's response to Katrina. If Herzog's goal was to craft a compelling police drama, then he failed miserably, but if he intended to create a magnificent cinematic mess, then mission accomplished!
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