December 17, 2009

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (R)
Nicholas Cage is a broken man crumbling into yet more pieces in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a strange but kind of fascinating movie from Werner Herzog.

Knowing, Bangkok Dangerous, Next, The Wicker Man — granted these are not the highlights of Cage’s long career, but these movies do offer a good picture of what he’s been doing lately. One might argue that a man with this kind of résumé has nowhere to go but up. Or, in this case, no where to go but weirder, which is where this movie takes him.

Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) is a New Orleans cop with questionable ethics yet he nonetheless jumps into a basement filled with brown water during Hurricane Katrina to save a prisoner trapped in a cell. The rescue makes him a hero but it also injures his back, leading to a painkiller addiction — not only the ones his doctors prescribe but any drug he comes across. And, as one might imagine, the more illicit the drug the more nefarious his method for procuring it — from scaring drunken partiers in a parking lot into giving up their pot (and, in at least one case, giving up other things as well) to doing business with a big-time heroin dealer. Terence meets the dealer in the course of investigating the murder of a local African immigrant family. His not-quite-regulation pursuit of the dealer, Big Fate (Xzibit), coincides with other troubles including his mounting gambling debts and the thugs who are after him for scaring away a client of Frankie (Eva Mendes), the high-end prostitute who is Terence’s girlfriend.

The deeper Terence sinks into the muck that is his life, the more twisted Nicholas Cage becomes. After his injury, Terence stands with his shoulders making a diagonal line, a sharp slope of one shoulder up and one hunched way down that gets steeper the cruddier his life becomes. The more depraved Terence gets, the stranger Cage’s voice gets, as an eventually hallucinating Terence goes spinning off a ledge of sanity. I’m not sure exactly what kind of performance this is — a brilliant one, a to-hell-with-it one, the performance a man having a swell time — but it’s absolutely fascinating to watch. Cage is like a rabid dog frolicking manically in a dog park, occasionally stopping to bite the head off a squirrel. B-

Rated R for drug use and language throughout, some violence and sexuality. Directed by Werner Herzog and written by William M. Finkelstein (earlier films were written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is two hours long and distributed by First Look Pictures.