Movie News & Reviews

Herzog's directing turns 'Bad Lieutenant' into classic

Hey, let's play that game we all spent most of our childhood doingwhere we're sexy outlaws on a mission of personal revenge.

So you're adrift in the society that turned its back on you. You canchoose one ally to help you stay alive — a steel-plated tae kwondo-bot or a cop who plays by his own rules. Now, the tae kwon do-botis impervious to pain and can kick the hearts out of five men persecond, but I've already got that. Stick a rifle cabinet in its chest and nowwe're talking. Also you could break into places by using it like aTrojan horse that neighs like Stephen Hawking.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

But police have guns, too, and they have a power no robot can match:the one where they say "Hey, do what I tell you to do" and your onlyresponse is "OK, I will do what you want now." That power's sopotent that we as citizens have like three different laws to protectus from it, but in the hands of a cop who doesn't care, like the"hero" of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, there'salmost no limit to what you can achieve.

For saving an inmate from a Katrina-flooded prison, New Orleans copNicholas Cage gets a promotion to lieutenant and a lingering backinjury. The painkillers don't cut it, though — or maybe they cut it toowell. Soon, he's turned to hard drugs.

That doesn't stop him from heading the investigation of the murder ofa family of Senegalese immigrants. But his vices do stop it from beingeasy--and as Cage's manic threats, missing witnesses, and armedenemies add up, he may collapse along with his case.

Bad Lieutenant delivers what it promises: a lieutenant beingvery, very bad. Cage steals drugs from his own evidence room. Waivescrimes in exchange for coke, sex, and favors for his bookie. He smokesand snorts so much stuff he'd probably invest in a robotic Gatlingnose if he hadn't already gambled all his money away on football.

Forget pensions and appeals to service. You want kids to start signingup for the police force, you show them this movie.

We're all pretty familiar with how the downward spiral of drugs works.No matter how big your rock audience or crime empire, eventually thework suffers, and sooner or later you end up either in AA with a Biblein your back pocket or machine-gunned off the balcony of your Miamimansion. It's no surprise then that the higher Cage gets, the more thehomicides slip off Bad Lieutenant's radar.

Director Werner Herzog keeps a firm hand on this chaotic till,skipping from scene to scene with a minimum of moralizing. He conjuresup a number of memorable moments along the way, be they woozy closeupsof iguanas or a coked-up Cage threatening to suffocate an old woman inthe middle of her care facility.

As for Cage, in past films he's sometimes been about as subtle asGodzilla with a megaphone, but Herzog turns that to his advantage.Like its source, Bad Lieutenant is something of a sleazyB-movie, and Cage's druggie freakouts, pain-induced Nixonian posture,and bursts of depravity send the movie wobbling happily back and forthacross the Camp-town city limits.

No surprise, then, it can end up feeling messy, off course and out ofcontrol. But Herzog drags it back together for a funny, strange andsubversive resolution that seems to suggest "Hey, maybe the fix forheedlessly intoxicated police corruption is more cocaine-fueledcop violence."

After watching what Cage is capable of in BadLieutenant, I'm not about to argue with him.

Grade: B+>

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