Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Time Out New York Project: Issue #738, November 19-25, 2009
Dir. Werner Herzog. 2009. N/R. 121mins. Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes.
Nicolas Cage is the main attraction in this redux-in-name-only of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Manhattan morality tale, especially as he appears to be channeling the ghost of director Werner Herzog’s legendary muse, Klaus Kinski. Playing corrupt New Orleans cop Terence McDonagh, the actor lurches with a Kinski-esque gait (bug-eyed and slope-shouldered, frequently twisting his body into the frame like a haughty zombie) and holsters a .44 Magnum awkwardly above his crotch as if he’s both brandishing an appendage and tempting fate.
Cage is not quite Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo in the Big Easy. But his performance hits all the right mythopoetic beats, rising above the thin script and late-night-cable aesthetic. There’s plenty here for another of those Wicker Man YouTube compilations—only Cage could find the perfect inflections for a line like, “I’m gonna kill all of you…to the break of dawn!”—though the sense that we’re watching a highlight reel first and a movie second is pretty pervasive.
This doesn’t apply to just the film’s star. Herzog’s clearly on “ecstatic truth” autopilot, lazily gazing at the city around him, and coming fully alive only when he diverges from the post-Katrina noir shadings. The end credit “Iguana/Alligator Footage by Werner Herzog” hints at what he does best: making the commonplace ineffably strange. When he introduces one of those scaly reptiles into a shoot-out between McDonagh and some gangsters—a scene that also features a guy’s soul break-dancing and a reprise of the chicken-dance theme from Stroszek—the effect is sublime. Ditto the reportedly improvised climactic passages, which grow out of a brilliant non sequitur: “Do fish have dreams?” asks a drug-addled McDonagh. Herzog always dreams, even when he’s sleepwalking through a second-tier effort.—Keith Uhlich