Abel Ferrara's 1992 excursion into wantonness and depravity is refashioned by Werner Herzog into an odd, sordid, surprising adult amusement.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans stars Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, and Val Kilmer and takes place in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Bayou city's Chamber of Commerce won't be too happy with Herzog's washed-out, lifeless look of it. But, there's a reason for all of the boozy gloom as the production and lead character co-exist in a lurching languishness and hyperactivity in an area populated by water-snakes and crocodiles.
Cage's Detective Terrence McDonagh has performed well enough during one of the century's greatest catastrophes to earn a promotion. Yet, he's still rather reprehensible when it comes to drugs, gambling, physical abusiveness, and evidence-tampering while carrying on a relationship with a debt-ridden, drug-addled hooker Frankie, endowed by a slinky Mendes.
The storyline involves McDonagh's taking on a case of a brutal murder of a Senegalese immigrant clan. It looks like local underworld head Big Fate (Xzbit Joiner) is behind it as the father dealt heroin in his domain, but his investigation is hanging on what edgy delivery teenage boy (Denzel Whitaker) knows. Terrence seems to be losing his grip on things and the only way out is a further boost of sex, drugs, and violence. He's medicated with Vicodin after freeing a prisoner trapped in a water-logged cell and now uses his Lieutenant status to make an alliance, provide protection which means dividing a share of the profits.
It must be said that Cage really immerses himself into a character with personality tics that he may have drawn upon from pictures like Leaving Las Vegas, Matchstick Men, Bringing Out the Dead, and 8 MM. McDonagh almost looks like a hunched-over, sleep-drived zombie with the gait of a lush and appears to have a severe personality disorder.
The slimy mood maintained by Herzog fits into a life in a real fast lane with some wild, wry hallucinating of iguanas as untraditional morality and downplayed cynicism fits the bill until some optimism appears near the conclusion. This Bad Lieutenant wallows in its grungy, somewhat surreal squalor, not the same hard-boiled portrait self-destruction with religious undertones in Ferrara's opus which featured a kind of dynamic raw desperation by Harvey Keitel.
Behind the narcotized, crooked Cage, Mendes and Kilmer as McDonagh's snarky partner have their moments, while Brad Dourif and Michael Shannon pop up nicely over the course of the proceedings. And, Jennifer Coolidge, of all people, turn up as McDonagh's really jaded stepmother.
It almost seems as if Herzog's absurdist interpretation was filmed with documentary-like realism as he brings out some lunatic panache along with a brooding jazzy score by Mark Isham. The port of call to some nutty rhythms is extreme unconventional amorality that hits a humorous campy chord in what looks too much like the Big Sleazy.