Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or "The closest I've come to doing heroin with Nicolas Cage and a couple of iguanas."

The first thing people say to me when I bring up the film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is, "Is it as fucked up as the original (Bad Lieutenant, which came out in 1992, starring Harvey Keitel and sporting an NC-17)?"  That's if they've seen BL, but most people just raise their eye-brows and nod.  And then I mention that it's "my favorite Herzog film to date! (which isn't saying much since I've only seen three out of his 80-something films)" and that's when they really feign interest.

The truth is BL:PCNO is as much a mystery to me as to someone who's neither seen nor heard of the original or of Werner Herzog. I'm not sure how the film came to be or why it was conceived in the first place.  Is it a sequel?  A follow-up?  Is it going to be the next big franchise, a la Harry Potter (I can envision a dark and twisted series of notorious crazies playing BL's in different cities all over the world, e.g. Del Toro in Mexico City, the dude from Brother in Tokyo, the dude from Oldboy in Seoul, Crowe in Sydney, Gary Busey in Starke, FL)?  When told about the possibility of a remake of his film, Abel Ferrera, who co-wrote and directed BL reportedly said he "felt horrible""like when you get robbed" and that those involved with the remake "should all die in hell."  When Herzog was asked why he was remaking the film, he reportedly claimed that it was not a remake and that he had never seen the original (bullshit).  Some theorize that the producers only added "Bad Lieutenant" to the title in order to get a better market, which I find unbelievable because so few people have heard of the first film.  Suffice to say, whether a sequel, remake, re-imagining or none of the above, both films share the same basic plot which follows a drug-addled, corrupt cop as he traverses the seedy parts of his respective city (the first BL takes place in NYC).

To elaborate a little on BL:PCNO's plot, we are introduced to detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) in the first scene as he's investigating a Katrina-flooded jail with his cop buddy, Val Kilmer.  They come across an inmate who begs to be released before he drowns in the rising hurricane water.  The two cops laugh and poke fun at the doomed man, and Terence complains about not wanting to ruin his European underwear, but he eventually jumps into the water and debris to save the pathetic convict, to the protest of Val Kilmer.  Fade to black.  Now, we find Terence in a doctor's office being told he's permanently damaged his spine (presumably in the rescue attempt), and that he'll have to take Vicodin for the rest of his life.  End scene.  The following scene show's McDonagh being promoted to Lieutenant for his heroic actions.  And that's all the exposition we're gonna get.  This is all we have to explain why Terence McDonagh spends the next two hours abusing his newfound power in increasingly hedonistic ways, scoring parking-lot sex and smack from night-clubbers, pimping out his prostitute girlfriend, Eva Mendes, and smacking around grandmas in a drug-induced haze.  Ostensibly, the rest of the story revolves around McDonagh's investigation of five Senegalese immigrants, but this case only serves as the sandbox for Terence's many vices and the methods in which he enjoys them.

I don't want to reveal too many of the juicy bits, but I will say that my favorite scene involves Nic Cage, a lot of drugs and a couple of lizards.  He walks into an apartment, high as a Georgia pine, where Val Kilmer and a couple of other cops are staking out a suspect, and begins to converse when he notices two iguanas on the coffee table.  He asks the other cops what they're doing there, and they look at him like he's dipped in shit.  His apparent hallucination continues, and is even joined by the audience in a playful poke at the fourth wall.  As Herzog gives one of the iguanas a couple of nudges with the lens, Cage looks on smiling humorously at the camera, and a moment is shared.  Fucking magic.

Given the aforementioned synopsis, a lot of people will not like this movie.  If you need reductive clarification for every movie you see (i.e. if you need to know exactly what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase), then this movie is not for you.  Oh, and if you don't like drug binges and gratuitous sex and violence and downward spiral tragic train-wreck stories, then it's not for you either.  But I for one enjoy a healthy fascination for train-wrecks, and this is one of the most personified examples of train-wreck, short of an actual train-wreck and Jon and Kate Plus 8.  And the fact that Herzog and Cage ride that fine line between train-wreck and fascination so precariously throughout the film is what makes it so brilliant.  That's right, brilliant, and in my opinion superior to Abel Ferrera's.  Both films were amazing, but Herzog's was just a little more palatable, and Cage a little more charming (I often found myself rooting for him, despite his, ahem, shortcomings; and vice-versa with Harvey Keitel).

You can not casually view this film and come away without an intense opinion, either positive or negative.   Fortunately for me, in this age of tabloid drug queens and crotch-shots, and video-games that give me bona-fide nightmares, my mind has been dulled to lasciviousness, so very little of BL:PCNO shocked me (but trust me, I did catch myself staring slack-jawed at the screen during two or three particularly nasty scenes).  But I still had an intense opinion, which is that I enjoyed every fuckin minute of this bizarre and rollicking good time.  And I didn't even mention the breakdancing corpse.

Note:  I got this off of Netflix.  I wanted to see it with Stu when it came to the Hippodrome, but I couldn't free myself up from my insanely busy schedule (ha).  The first Bad Lieutenant was my very first NC-17 movie (although it later got clipped down to an R).

4 out of 5

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