Bad Lieutenant
Look right into the light, you’re getting sleepy …

Theatrical Release Date: 11/25/2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Tom Bower, Jennifer Coolidge, Shawn Hatosy, Shea Whigham, Fairuza Balk

When it comes to “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (really, that’s the title you’re going with?), one thing is abundantly clear. This is definitely not the cop you want to mess with, especially if you’re standing in the way of him and his fix.

The film takes place just after Hurricane Katrina slammed through New Orleans and centers on Nicolas Cage, an addict lieutenant (hence the title) in charge of finding out who massacred a family caught up in a drug feud. There are a number of shady criminals and alliances and double crosses that occur throughout as Cage navigates his way through the case, his life and his addiction.

There’s bound to be some buzz surrounding Nic Cage’s performance here and it’s well deserved. Echoing shades of his tremendous turn as an alcoholic in “Leaving Las Vegas”, here his drug addiction fuels many of the character’s decisions and Cage doesn’t shy away from playing a scene as big as necessary.

Due to an on-the-job injury, the addiction springs from a prescription to vicodin and in order to cope with the potentially life-long pain, Cage resorts to more and more substances. These give the character a wide variety of mood swings and moral flexibility that are sometimes sad but more often humorous, and this gets into the biggest issue with the film.

Werner Herzog’s direction gave the film a very whimsical and playful tone. There are numerous shots of Cage’s character seeing lizards and other hallucinations that result from his drug use that play out as both comical and weird. There there’s how he deals with criminals, witnesses and colleagues alike, with a mix of unpredictability, rudeness and sheer arrogance.

He’s a drug addict who routinely breaks the law in order to sustain his habit (and that of his drug addict prostitute girlfriend played well by Eva Mendes). His family life is a mess and thanks to the shadiness of his actions, Cage is often having to stay just one step ahead of everyone out there wanting to make him less than alive.

These are dark elements and I was always hoping to get to some central, serious core of emotions. Cage’s character should have put me on edge but Herzog’s treatment of the film made that impossible and instead, I could only enjoy the absurdly and tragically comic events that unfolded.

One bright note is an excellent supporting turn from Shea Whigham, who has made it a habit to deliver great performances with very little screen time. The other supporting cast do a decent job as well, with Mendes at the forefront although her character often is little more than window dressing (very pretty window dressing but window dressing nonetheless).

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” does showcase Cage’s ability to play addicts and it was fun to watch his antics, even if it wasn’t as dramatically satisfying as I had hoped it would be, so I’ll dole out a 3 out of 5. This bears little resemblance to the original “Bad Lieutenant” starring Harvey Keitel but here we don’t get a full frontal shot of the main character either … so I’ll consider it a push. If you want something a little offbeat and enjoy watching a crooked cop snort his way through the criminal element in post-Katrina New Orleans, then look no further.