Police Sergeant Terry McDonagh and his partner Detective Stevie Pruit come across a prisoner locked in his cell just after Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. The water is rising and the two jaded cops toy with leaving him there, even betting on how long it will take for him to drown. Terry eventually saves him but hurts his neck in the rescue. Six months later the resulting pain puts him on a path of drug abuse and erratic behavior while still on the job.
Sergeant McDonagh is promoted to Lieutenant for his heroic work during the hurricane. His first job is to find the killers of an illegal Senegalese family. His superior is worried that Terry may not be able to handle taking the lead on such a big case. Terry assures him that he is only taking what the doctor has ordered. Of course he’s also snorting coke, doing heroin, and smoking pot to get through his days. He even busts kids, takes their drugs, and accepts sex as bribes. His girlfriend is a high dollar prostitute with whom he shares his cocaine. Terry barely sleeps or eats while running down leads and finding more ways to use people in his pursuit of getting high and numb from his pain.
It’s an interesting performance by Cage, who has been recently trying to do roles that are laughably ill-fitting. Like being an MIT professor in Knowing, or being too old for Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider. He is always over the top and playing the same person every time. In this role as the increasingly downward spiral cop, Cage manages to keep a little sense of decency while breaking all the rules. Walking slightly skewed and stiff, with hands flying, fingers popping, head twitching and rambling talk, you never know what he will do next. You get a sense that maybe Cage is personally familiar with this type of behavior. The scene of him trying to get information from an elderly woman and her caretaker while hiding behind their door and shaving his face is absurd but makes sense. Cage makes you feel the lack of sleep and desperation while you still dislike him for being such a prick.
The story goes all over the place, from hallucinating iguanas and break dancing souls to accidents with alligators, mobster collection enforcers, and drug dealers. Just when you think everything is so far out of hand, the resolve starts falling into place in the last 10 minutes. You can see it coming, but it will still keep you awake while it’s happening. Val Kilmer enjoys top billing, but really has very little to do. Jennifer Coolidge, without a ton of makeup, is great as Terry’s beer guzzling step mom. Eve Mendez plays Terry’s beautiful "professional" girlfriend Frankie. But it’s Shawn Whigham who steals his scene as the self righteous "john" who, in response to Terry’s threats, says “whoa” and “oh yeah” sarcastically and as many times as he can.
The original 1992 Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Kietel and directed by Abel Ferrara was an unforgettable look at a drug using, morally compromised police detective. And that’s about as far as comparisons go. This version, directed by Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn and Nosferatu the Vampyre), has really little to do with the first movie outside of the drugs, sex, and gambling. Herzog has said that he has never seen the first movie and has never met Abel Ferrara, who has been quoted in various media to be unhappy with the “remake.” The producer, Edward Pressman, imposed the title on Herzog who just wanted to call the movie Port of New Orleans. They compromised with the combined title. Although screenings at the Toronto Fest and the AFI-LA festivals brought some good reviews for Cage’s manic performance, the movie is going to DVD by next February. (Review by Reesa Cruz-Hawkins)