Werner Herzog has made some weird films in his time. Some weird in a good way, some weird in a bad way, some just plain weird. But the near-psychotic German is never afraid of a challenge, even if it involves dragging a steamboat all the way over a hill. With Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009), you can see him sink his teeth in Abel Ferrara’s 1992 corrupt cop flick with manic glee. Manic and glee being the operative words. Unless you prefer words like demented. Or bonkers. Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) is a cop off the rails. Ever since his spontaneous heroic act of help post-Hurricane Katrina, he’s been on Vicodin for his chronic back pains.
Walking around at a permanent 30 degree angle to the camera, Cage’s anti-hero is an insane and disturbing figure. Lurching from one side of the screen to the next, there’s no telling what he’ll do to help out his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) or score his next fix – braying and shouting at a second’s notice, he’s as unpredictable as any madman. He waves his gun around, honks on his crack pipe and shouts at his sidekick (a pudgy Val Kilmer, adding wonderfully to the depraved run-down tapestry of Herzog’s mind). Terrence also sees iguanas. Everywhere. Crawling on coffee tables, staring at him from chairs, lizards turn up all over the film in a barmy, hallucinatory touch; one scene shows a road accident where an SUV has up-ended thanks to a giant alligator lying half-dead in the road.
This is Herzog letting full rip, going all the way with his nutty impulses and consistently coming up with the goods. But the main show belongs to Nic Cage. Back on mental form after years of mainstream coasting, he turns that unhinged glint in his eye up to maximum, repeatedly laughing at a man’s name (“G”) and waggling his eyebrows like crazy. Kick-Ass’ (2010) Big Daddy aside, he hasn’t had this much fun in a role since Face/Off (1997). Perfectly chiming in with Herzog’s uneven tone, he follows William Finkelstein’s hilarious script to the letter, yet somehow never feels stuck in a conventional cop thriller. Which is what this is, once you strip away the seedy sex, dirty drugs and gangland murders, which need to be solved.
While this remake may not have the raw ferocity of Ferrara’s original, it has an ironic edge of its own. The kind of irony that makes you fear for your own mental health. “Shoot him again,” orders Terrence, just after a dealer gets dispatched by a shotgun. “Why?” comes the reply. “His soul’s still dancing,” answers Terrence, staring into space. And it is dancing. Literally. Shove in a “Making Of” that includes alligator innards, and you’ve got another weird one from Werner Herzog. It’s nasty and screwed up, but Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans is horribly good. In a weird kind of way.