Bad Lieutenant, The: Port of New Orleans (Review)

(11/20/09; Drama, Suspense)
Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Xzibit
SCR: Billy Finkelstein
DIR: Werner Herzog
MPAA: R for drug use and language throughout, some violence and sexuality.
2 hours 2 mins
BOX: $5,908,682

Here’s one of the great cinematic puzzles of the 21st century: How can Nicolas Cage go from being train-wreckingly awful (The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous) to dazzlingly watchable? There are many ways this “rethinking” of the notorious 1992 Harvey Keitel cop drama Bad Lieutenant could have gone wrong but with Hertzog guiding an intense Cage the results are never less than compelling.

Cage is a decorated but flawed officer in post-Katrina New Orleans more interested in his next score than his next collar. He’s racked with pain from a back injury, has bookies after him for gambling debts, a multiple homicide to solve and because he’s whacked out on drugs all the time, sees iguanas wherever he goes. My main complaint is that after so many deliciously salacious story strands are introduced, the finale is laughably anti-climactic: three subplots are wrapped up while Cage sits at a desk!

But the story is not quite the point, nor the main attraction. Mendes is striking as the obligatory hooker with a heart of gold; Joiner could almost anchor his own film as a slimy, likable gangster. Although Kilmer is second-billed, he only appears in a handful of scenes. But it’s Cage with his pained expression, slippery morality, casual drug use and willingness to hurl himself into the darkness that leaves the biggest impression.

The central theme is one of redemption so let us revel in the return of Oscar-winner Cage, at least until he makes another crappy action movie or National Treasure sequel, in 3…2… (First Look)


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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