The Big Sleazy

I have no idea if Nicolas Cage has ever dabbled in drugs, but based on his performance in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to be in the same zip code if he does.

Smoking and snorting his way through enough narcotics to make Tony Montana jealous, Cage, as Louisiana Lieutenant Terry McDonough, at no point hesitates to consider consequences of his behavior. He instead barrels through one ill-advised encounter after another, entangling himself ever deeper into his own personal entropy.

A checklist of the ingredients in his cocktail of chaos? Let’s see:
1) his pain medication for back issues have lost their edge, forcing him to seek stronger relief to mask the pain, and
2) his addictions lead him to perform theft within the department, rape while on duty, and the occasional glimpses of imaginary iguanas, which are not seen by
3) his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie (played by Eva Mendes), who shares his addictions while still selling herself to rather unseemly clients, with whom which
4) Terry tangles with a particularly violent developer/Mob boss, who is after him for money of which
5) Terry has not dime one because of a flood of gambling debts, and speaking of floods
6) this is all taking place against the aftermath of Katrina, where random anarchy reigns, causing
7) the loss of a multiple murder witness in his custody, all of which has
8) Internal Affairs launching an investigation on Terry that results in a revocation of his badge and gun, but
9) Terry is still determined to solve his assignment despite the lack of evidence and self control.

Oh sure, there are a few other obstacles standing in his way, but they are a tad less substantive than those listed above.

At first blush, the events in the film appear heightened to the point of parody, but knowing that Werner Herzog is in the director’s chair, rest assured that there is purpose behind the pandemonium. The visionary, shoe-eating director (if you don’t know that story, there’s a film about it. Rent it) has once said “Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.” His lead in “Bad Lieutenant,” Terry McDonough is constantly, unsuccessfully trying to avoid falling through the cracks.

And who better to embody this dance through destruction but Cage, who has long since been coasting in such paycheck pictures as “Bangkok Dangerous” and “Ghost Rider.” He is as intriguing an actor as Herzog is a director. For there have seldom been actors who coast so easily between commercial cash-ins (hello, National Treasure and Gone in 60 Seconds) and low-key oddities (“Red Rock West,” “Kiss of Death,” “Lord of War”). In “Lieutenant,” he seems invigorated at the chance to let that freak flag fly mightily, and seizes every opportunity to flex, but not flaunt, some long-inert dramatic muscles. He is aided by small, dependable turns from co-stars Val Kilmer (as his corrosive sometime-partner), Fairuza Balk (as his kinky sometime-lover) and wonderfully de-glammed Jennifer Coolidge (as his exhausted, seldom-sober stepmother).

This is really not a sequel not a remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara-Harvey Keitel collaboration,and the “Bad Lieutenant” part of its name is really just fulfilling contractual obligations more than anything. As awkward as its title may be, it’s still fitting that post-Katrina be the backdrop to witness his descent, as its tumult provides a further peek into Terry’s cluttered soul.

~ by usesoapfilm on December 1, 2009.

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