For those of you who have seen Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant from 1992, don’t think that this new version, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, from director Werner Herzog is a remake, a re-imagining, or a sequel. It’s a stand-alone project worthy of your time and money. It is entertaining, engaging and oddly funny.
When we first meet Sergeant Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), he’s a good cop, risking his life to save a prisoner from rising flood waters and suffering a permanent back injury as a result. When we next encounter him, six months later, he is receiving a commendation and being promoted to lieutenant, but he has secretly become addicted to vicodin and cocaine, the second of which he is stealing from the police store room. As his addiction escalates, his behavior becomes increasingly unstable, with his actions endangering his current case: a multiple homicide committed by local drug kingpin Big Fate (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner). The walls start closing in on Terence, with a client of his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) sending goons to extort money from him, his bookie demanding that he pay his $5000 tab, and Internal Affairs going after his gun and badge.
As I remember the original Bad Lieutenant, one of the first films to ever receive an NC-17, has Harvey Keitel giving one the great performances on screen in the last 20 years. His acting was so honest and engrossing, that it made me look at NYPD cops in a whole different light. Ferrara himself added his trademark New York grit which was just as powerful as Keitel on screen. In this new version, German director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, The Wrath of God) known for his unforgettable documentaries, gives this worn out bad cop movie an injection of adrenaline that will satisfy fans of the original film and of his own.
Nic Cage gives his best performance on celluloid since Adaptation. He reminds us of the old Cage from Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas. He is fully invested in his character and makes you wonder why he ever did Ghost Rider or Next? There were some over the top scenes, but I think it was simply a stylistic choice. Eva Mendes on her end, does a descent job in complementing Cage very well as the sexy, gritty and loving hooker he’s in love with. For the most part, Eva’s roles throughout her career are very similar. I would like to see her stretch her skills a bit as she did in ‘Hitch’, but these roles prohibit any chance of it.
Some portions deter from the movie being perfect, but nevertheless, it’s the type of movie you walk out of the theater talking about for days.