Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
November 20, 2009
On the Big Board
|Just bad. Nic Cage continues his streak of lousy productions.
Recently I’ve managed to become involved in several discussions concerning film remakes – like a pesky itch that cannot be scratched, this conversation seems to revisit me often and it’s given me a lot of opportunity to consider my thoughts. And those thoughts have remained pretty consistent – if we don’t like them we don’t have to see them. Just because a film has been remade doesn’t necessarily mean it will be worse than the original. And it certainly isn't as though they can take the original away from us (well, maybe George Lucas can). Once it hits the streets it is always there for us to enjoy, ignore or rediscover as we see fit (unless it’s Star Wars). Then again, I am also willing to acknowledge that it’s easy to be ambivalent to the idea of a remake until someone decides to fiddle with a movie that interests you. So when it came time for me to take a look at the upcoming film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, I'll concede the awkward title gave me pause. I assumed this was to be a remake of the existing 1992 cult classic Bad Lieutenant, which I saw while I was in college. In fact, I distinctly remember taking my ex-wife to see it because she kept complaining about how Harvey Keitel ‘looked like a frog’.
Yes that’s the great Harvey Keitel, likened by my former spouse to an amphibian. Is it any wonder I haven't talked to her in years?
But upon further investigation I came to discover that this clumsy title - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – is somewhat misleading. While both the original and current films center on a troubled policeman with diseased souls, they appear to have little else in common. In fact as the story goes, the intended title of the movie was simply Port of Call New Orleans, but one of the film’s producers picked up on the similarity of the two films’ lead characters and insisted on the addition of Bad Lieutenant to the title solely for marketing purposes. Under most circumstances I’d find that explanation somewhat dubious but in this case the director of the film, German über-existentialist Werner Herzog, confirms the story. And if Herzog – a man who’s never done anything uninventive in his life - says he’s never seen Bad Lieutenant and that the title was forced on him, then that’s good enough for me.
Shown to relatively positive acclaim at several film festivals in September 2009, the early consensus seems to favor Herzog. The original Bad Lieutenant was a gritty Gotham narrative of one man’s struggle with vice, guilt, anger and redemption. Filled with ambitious passion, it nonetheless remained essentially a character study. Set against the backdrop of post Katrina New Orleans, the 2009 film looks set to touch instead on some of Hertzog’s own traditional themes. That's to say that in his films, we typically find mankind at odds with the pitiless edicts of nature and the dehumanizing results of our repeated attempts to defy them. And if you think that’s heavy, Herzog often chooses to focus on these dystopian social landscapes through the eyes of one disaffected loner, naively dependent on his sense of individuality for salvation. Who better to illustrate the breakdown of the human condition than a man intent on justice via his courtship of destruction, constantly provoking his fate with almost supernatural contempt? Who better to follow into hell than a man who strives to bring order to his chaotic world even as the futility of his task descends him into dysfunction and madness? In Hertzog's universe such men are routinely crushed by their own unrealistic ambitions in ways that are equal parts tragic, ironic and morbidly amusing.
And in this, perhaps his first overtly commercial Hollywood film, who better to play the acclaimed director's tormented protagonist than Nicolas Cage? As Detective Terence McDonagh, Bad Lieutenant chronicles his fall from tainted hero to craven hoodlum, just as he’s assigned to the biggest case of his career. For many directors this would require an actor of Shakesperean range – if their goal were to create a straight drama. But Herzog’s anti-heroes often exist within stark thematic worlds rather than realistic ones, and a performer of Cage’s peculiar talents would seem an ideal choice. This is because in my view there are Nicolas Cage fans ‘Type A’, and then there are Nicolas Cage fans ‘Type B’ – and rarely do the two overlap. ‘Type B’ audiences flock to titles such as National Treasure or Face/Off, but ‘Type A’ fans consider Cage an actor of distinctive (if perhaps limited) range whose talents are best displayed in more unconventional material.
At his most subdued, there is a dramatically shabby yet sympathetically disarming quality to him. At his emotional apex he’s a frenetic live wire, straining to jump off the screen like a bottle rocket on a dog chain – comically, even hellishly endearing. And when he is able to combine the two sides to any degree in a single performance he is as uniquely watchable as any actor in Hollywood. Judging from the trailer and the early reviews, this is the Nicolas cage we're going to get in Bad Lieutenant – the highs and the lows along with all the nuances. Not just the Cage his most ardent fans probably enjoyed in Wild at Heart, 8mm or Matchstick Men, but the one they’ve been waiting to see since Adaptation.
It doesn’t hurt that Cage is joined in Bad Lieutenant by Indie darlings Val Kilmer and Fairuza Balk (Well I like her, anyway), as well as Lad Mag favorite Eva Mendes. But for my money, if you’re Nic Cage Fan ‘Type A’, then a chance to see what Werner Herzog can get out of him is the next best thing to seeing what Cage might have achieved with a mad scientist like Stanley Kubrick. Perhaps there’s even a ‘Type C’ fan who can appreciate both Nic Cages independently. If so, you may not enjoy Bad Lieutenant but I’ll wager you’ll never forget it. And if you’re a ‘Type B’ fan…I’d probably just wait for Ghost Rider 2.
That probably won’t feel like a remake at all! (Bruce Hall/BOP)
Vital statistics for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Xzibit, Shea Wigham, Katie Chonacas, Brad Dourif
|First Look Studios
|Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture