Thursday, December 10, 2009

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

When I was a child, my father told me that any movie with a title longer than seven syllables was destined to fail. THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS does not catch a pass in this department. The plot is adequate, but by and large, the biggest, most damning sin this film commits is in hiring Nicolas Cage to play the lead role.

Nicolas Cage has been careening through Hollywood like a cracked-out homeless person for his entire career. Cage was given work in Hollywood in the first place because of his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. The only reason Cage continues to get work is that he won an Oscar for his performance in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Here is the truth: Cage won because he didn’t have to act. He always looks like he is under the influence of a narcotic. Some might call his method quirky, but Cage comes across as so completely insecure in front of the camera that he makes his audience insecure. Nicolas Cage is a bundle of twitches and bizarre gesticulations. In this new BAD LIEUTENANT movie, Nic Cage’s Terrence McDonagh is completely drug-addled. It would seem that a freak like Nic Cage would be suited for the job, but he is in way over his head.

The original BAD LIEUTENANT was a mean-spirited piece of spiritual abuse from Abel Ferrera. It featured Harvey Keitel investigating the rape of a nun while doing incredible amounts of drugs and racking up a hefty gambling debt. In the end of the original, Keitel gets smoked. It is bittersweet because his soul is in such torment.

The parallels between the original BAD LIEUTENANT and BLPOCNO have to do with drug use, unfettered gambling, and securing strange sexual favors from women about to be arrested. But it all ends there. The original BAD LIEUTENANT was about the spiritual anguish of a man whose life was falling to pieces. There is nothing remotely that existential in BLPOCNO. BLPOCNO is tamer than the original film in all respects. The first film was the bully and BLPOCNO is a henchman at best. This is odd and unfortunate because Victor Argo was a writer on both productions. Perhaps his death in 2004 led to a toning down of this “sequel.” The truth of the matter is that the title of “BAD LIEUTENANT” should have died with Keitel’s character back in 1992.

So walking into BLPOCNO requires a level of forgiveness that I simply don’t have. There was no need for a new BAD LIEUTENANT movie. The Lieutenant is dead as per the first film.

I must also note that Abel Ferrera who directed the original BAD LIEUTENANT wished that all involved with this new production die in a streetcar. BLPOCNO director Werner Herzog has publically stated that he hasn’t seen the original movie and that the two shouldn’t be compared. Perhaps then he should have come up with a different title for the film. But obviously Herzog is using the notoriety of the original film. A lot of back-story doesn’t need to be explained because the title telegraphs to the audience that this film is going to be a morally-compromised sex and drug festival starring Nic Cage in the title role that Keitel originated.

Now Nic Cage is supposed to convince me that he has the acting chops that Keitel has? I should stop writing here because Nic Cage threatens no leading man in A-list modern cinema in regards to acting chops.

Nic Cage’s ghoulish performance as a police officer with back trouble so great that he relies on street drugs over his codeine prescription is really the problem with the film. Cage is a complete ghoul. His ghoulishness is accentuated with a strange limp, and his receding hairline is almost Hiteresque. Nic Cage is a depressing example of how detached the bigwigs in Hollywood are from the common people who watch these films. In a just world, Cage would be bounced to the C-list where he could hone his craft and move back up the ladder. Cage is limited in his range and uncomfortable with his delivery. There isn’t a moment in BLPOCNO where he doesn’t betray his knowledge that there is a camera on him. One could argue that this is a part of his shtick and that Cage has done a brilliant job of acting like a drugged and strung out debtor with a ridiculous amount of pressure on him. This might be the case, but he has been acting like this for his entire career.

The other actor who seems to be overwhelmed (like Cage) is Eva Mendez. Mendez is eye candy; she always has been. Mendez plays Frankie, McDonagh’s hooker love interest, as a dazed beauty. McDonagh does drugs with her and gets her out of sticky situations with her scummy johns. There is a creepy scene where McDonagh and Mendez make out for a few seconds, and if there is such a thing as negative chemistry between a leading man and woman, this scene has it. Mendez isn’t much of a thespian, but she can outact someone like Megan Fox while doing a handstand. Mendez should have known better than to sign on to work with Cage again. GHOST RIDER was horrific and similarly uncomfortable.

The rest of the cast, which is custom-built around Cage and Mendez, all bust their humps to deliver their best. These people are hustling. It is a treat to watch them take their roles seriously and churn out fantastic product. Vondie Curtis-Hall is convincing as McDonagh’s Captain. As McDonagh’s partner Stevie, Val Kilmer is fresh, slimmed down, and seemingly reinvigorated as an actor. Fairuza Balk, who hasn’t done anything noteworthy since THE WATERBOY, comes into this film strong and believable as Heidi, a Highway Patrol officer who fixes problems. Brad Dourif takes a break from sleepwalking as Chuckie’s voice to actually put it down as Ned the loan shark. An honorable mention should also go to Xzibit who plays the murderous gangster named Big Fate. There is a ridiculous amount of talent to process in this film from the co-stars alone.

Furthermore, they are being put through their paces by Herzog, the man who brought us AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD back in 1972 and the beautiful yet long-winded 1979 version of NOSFERATU. In short, Herzog knows his camera work, and it shows throughout the film. When McDonagh is really tripping on whatever drugs are in his system, Herzog throws random iguanas shown through filters onscreen. Herzog also follows a crocodile from its perspective (crocovision) for more than a comfortable amount of time. This artistic detachment is favored several times through the film.

The plot is relatively simple. There has been a slaughter of five people, and McDonagh manages to secure a witness. McDonagh also manages to lose that witness and in the process, piss off a US Congressman, the Mafioso, and “one of the biggest developers in the gulf coast.” The plot is constantly derailed by McDonagh’s druggie side trips and insignificant subplots regarding his father’s newfound sobriety within AA. During a shootout, McDonagh orders that a body be shot again because “his soul is still dancing.” We see a body spinning and breakdancing and then McDonagh’s face with a look of incredibly disturbing peace on it. This is as close as the film gets to the spiritual subject matter of the original. There is also a moment where everything that is wrong in McDonagh’s life turns in his favor. This moment is so stilted and forced that you wonder again why this is a film sporting the name BAD LIEUTENANT.

Towards the end of the film, Frankie starts seriously considering sobriety. By this point, the film has stepped into that glossy Hollywood R-rating and completely away from the independent, gritty R-rating that Ferrera had secured. Unlike its superior predecessor, BLPOCNO then manages to end on a relatively positive note. And this is an offensive slap in the raw, uncompromising face of the original.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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