Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blogorium Review: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

I know. I know. You aren't going to believe me. I wouldn't believe me either, because I stubbornly refused to believe the positive reviews of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. When it made Roger Ebert's Top Ten Movies of 2009, I still thought there had to be an angle. Surely a movie with such an awe-inspiring sense of "BAD MOVIE NIGHT CANDIDATE" couldn't really be worth paying good money for.

(and yes, the on-screen title is actually THE Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans)

Even the descriptions of scenes, of Cage's verbal tics, or of adopting this bizarre Edward G. Robinson impersonation (which seems to disappear and reappear from scene to scene) had me wondering what kind of epic disaster this film was.

So Adam and I went to see Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage ham it up. Because that's what you have to expect from watching this:

*WARNING* I say in all fairness that it may be impossible to adequately explain away what you just saw, or to describe The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in any way that doesn't sound like the stupidest thing you've ever heard of, but I'm going to try.

Folks, let me tell you: the trailer does not misrepresent a single moment in the film. Everything you see in that ad happens, and much stranger. Cage alternates between bizarre and unhinged. There is a lucky crack pipe. There are iguanas (oh, and I'll get to that in a second). And yet it is wildly misleading.

I should never doubt Werner Herzog, especially when his comedy is being presented as a "gritty drama" by whoever markets this film. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is by intention a comedy from beginning to end, and anyone who thinks they're going to come in and laugh AT this movie is in for a pretty big shock. It's too weird to laugh AT. You can laugh WITH the film, since that's the design of the movie, but the moments in the trailer that look like "so bad it's good" actually fit into a much stranger narrative.

In the interest of keeping this short, I'm going to list a few things you haven't seen - many of which will convince you I'm selling you a false bill of goods - but that set the tone of this film:

- On two occasions during the film, Herzog deliberately switches to extreme close-ups shot with a hand held digital camera. The first is an alligator hanging out by the side of the road. The second is a prolonged sequence with the iguanas seen in the trailer, made all the funnier by the curious look on Cage's face as he periodically watches them.

- I swear to you that this isn't as stupid as it sounds: the soul IS dancing. Break dancing, to be specific. What you're missing is the context of what character Cage is referring to and everything leading up to this moment. I dare not say more.

- Because this is mostly being advertised as Nicolas Cage (with Eva Mendes), you should know there's some fine supporting work being done by Jennifer Coolidge, Brad Dourif, Tom Bowers, Shawn Hatosy, Farizua Balk, Irma P. Hall, Val Kilmer, and yes, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner.

As to the "remake" aspect of the film, it's better that you don't even think about it. Put Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant out of your mind going into this. Don't let the wieldy title dissuade you either; it's surprisingly appropriate, considering how important New Orleans is to the story.

Cage is to be commended for using all of the tics and eccentricities he's been derided for over the past few years (of which this blog is no exception) and pointing them towards the story. Every bad habit people chuckle over is used to advance the strange trajectory of Terence McDonagh, who may be more of a Good Lieutenant than you'd ever guess, so in that respect the ads misrepresent what's really going on in this movie.

Look, I'm not going to presume that anyone believes me. There will be no "retraction" review tomorrow, as there was for a far more infamous film one year ago. I honestly found The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans to be an excellent film, and you might be surprised to see where it ends up in the "Best of" list next week.

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