Review: Bad Lieutenant (TIFF)

PLOT: Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) is a coke/ heroine snorting, crack smoking, pill popping police detective with a bad back, a call girl girlfriend (Eva Mendes), and a gambling addiction working in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. His myriad of problems finally come to a head when he’s assigned a case involving a family of murdered Senagalese immigrants.

REVIEW: BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS is a curious choice for director Werner Herzog. He’s not someone generally known for riding other directors coat-tails, which is why I was surprised to hear that he had signed on to a remake of Abel Ferarra’s cult classic BAD LIEUTENANT. Even stranger is that he’s got Nicolas Cage as his star; a brilliant actor, but one who seems more than a little lazy these days, phoning in performance after performance and making nothing but pure, unadulterated crap over the last few years (his last good films were probably THE WEATHER MAN & LORD OF WAR).

The movie actually starts off as a pretty generic cop thriller, with very few flourishes to clue you in that this is indeed a Herzog film. But then, about midway through, once Cage busts a yuppie and his escort for possession, and then smokes crack and has sex with the girl, while holding the guy at gunpoint and forcing him to watch, Herzog’s plan becomes obvious. He’s making a parody!

Basically, this takes the piss out of films like TRAINING DAY, or NARC, with Cage’s wild performance getting more and more demented as the film goes on. Heck, Cage even adopts an accent about two thirds of the way into the movie, and then promptly drops it after about ten minutes. Meanwhile, the escalating madness of the character is brilliantly conveyed through a series of very Herzog-ian, extreme close-ups of various lizards (crocodiles, iguanas) shot with a handheld camera, that are supposed to be figments of his drug fueled hallucinations.

By the point Cage visits a witness’ grandmother (who works at a retirement home), and then holds her at gunpoint, while suffocating the elderly patient she’s looking after I was almost rolling in the aisles with laughter. Surely this is not to be taken seriously? I wasn’t really sure until the last fifteen minutes of the film, which almost play out as straight comedy, as all of Cage’s problems start to magically work themselves out leading to a final redemptive scene which is oddly moving, and beautifully shot.

As the titular BAD LIEUTENANT, Cage gets a lot of scenery to chew on here- and for once, this is appropriate. He’s better here than he’s been in years, and for what it’s worth, he seems to be having a blast in the role, which makes his role as Sailor in WILD AT HEART seem almost tame in comparison. Also, his hairpiece is better here than in his last few films, as it actually looks real, unlike the Ryan Seacrest rug from GHOST RIDER, or the doll’s hair from BANGKOK DANGEROUS. The rest of the cast is so-so, with Eva Mendes more or less playing it straight as his prostitute girlfriend, and rapper Xzibit playing the marginal villain, a drug lord responsible for the murder Cage is investigating. Initially, he tries to shut him down, until mounting debt forces him to team up with him in a drug deal that, naturally, goes bad.

Other than Cage, the only other actors in the film that seem to be in on the joke are Val Kilmer, who plays Cage’s even more corrupt partner, and Jennifer Coolidge, who plays an alcoholic married to Cage’s father. I also enjoyed seeing the under-rated Fairuza Balk show up as a state trooper he has a fling with (and for the record- she’s still incredibly hot, with her modeling a set of black lingerie that shows off her magnificent body). Genre fans will also get a hoot out of Brad Dourif (CHUCKY!!!) show up as Cage’s exasperated bookie.

Having never actually sat down to see the original BAD LIEUTENANT (Ferrara’s not really my bag- although I love KING OF NEW YORK), from what I understand, as over the top as this is it’s nothing compared to the NC-17 original. From what I know of that film, it appears that, other than the title, and the fact that both are about a “BAD LIEUTENANT”, the two films have very little in common.

I think that BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS is destined to become a cult classic/ midnight movie, as it’s really a lot of fun- which, hopefully, was Herzog’s intention. As for Cage- this is the most energized he’s been in years, and between this and KICK ASS, could a full blown resurgence be around the corner? One can only hope- although, for the love of God, no more NATIONAL TREASURE films!

RATING: 7.5/10


Check out Chris Bumbray’s Toronto Film Fest blog at Movie Fan Central!

Review: Bad Lieutenant (TIFF)




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.