What made Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film “Bad Lieutenant” so good was that it was a character study about an unredeemable, corruptible lowlife. Werner Herzog’s new film ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ feels about as long as its title, makes efforts to humanize the character, and comes off feeling more like a “Law and Order” episode rather than character study.
Nicholas Cage is a bright spot though as Terence McDonaugh, a cop suffering from so much back pain that he develops a dependence on prescription pills, cocaine, and heroin. The movie takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and sets Terence on a course toward trying to find out who killed a couple of dope dealers. He is soon put in a situation where he must protect a witness. Subplots like Terence’s prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) getting in trouble with some thugs and problems he has with his sleazy bookie (Brad Dourif) only distract even more from just letting the film be about Terence and his moral struggle.
Herzog’s choice of close-ups on all different kinds of reptiles doesn’t really help much either. This “Lieutenant” does do some bad things, like sticking up rich college kids outside a bar and his tactics toward police procedure are less than squeaky-clean but with shows like “The Shield” and “24”, those cowboy-like antics aren’t enough to shock any more and Terence always seems redemptive despite the times when he does go off.
It’s nice to see Cage doing some acting for a change though, giving a disheveled and exhausted performance complete with his trademark nervous tics but there just isn’t much to take away from Herzog’s film, which is unfortunate.