Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 121 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Xzibit, Irma P. Hall, Fairuza Balk, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge, Shea Whigham.
Tag-line: "The only criminal he can't catch is himself."
Best exchange: "Shoot him again." –"What for?" "His soul is still dancing!"
"I'll kill all of you... to THE BREAK OF DAWN!" PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS is a 'remake' of BAD LIEUTENANT in the sense that WILD AT HEART is a remake of THE WIZARD OF OZ: both pairings are ingenious masterworks (cut from entirely different cloths) that really have little to do with one another, save for some superficial and thematic elements. So despite being a tremendous admirer of Ferrara's film, Herzog's does not in any way inspire the "die in hell" (to quote Ferrara's opinion of this reimagining) bile I would reserve for, say, if "McG" were to reboot it.
Nic Cage is THE BAD LIEUTENANT, and while he doesn't deliver a performance quite as soul (or genital)-baring as Keitel did, it's probably his best role in 20 years. Instead of phoning in more uninspired faux-craziness, Cage artfully develops a character from the ground up: I don't know if it indicates personal maturation on his part or the firm hand of Herzog, but I like it.
Shuffling around in oversized suits with an AGUIRRE style slouch and his .44 tucked in the front of his pants, Cage is a groggy force of cracked-out nature.
His highs and lows alike are extraordinarily compelling, and oddly believable– though I suppose Herzog also made us believe that an army of dwarves was hellbent on wrecking the world's aesthetics (EVEN DWARVES STARTED SMALL) or that a small German village could lie in a state of constant hypnosis (HEART OF GLASS). The supporting cast is more than up for the ridiculous challenge: Eva Mendes as his long-suffering, crack-addled hooker girlfriend; Brad Dourif as a ponytailed, fretful bookie;
Val Kilmer as the haggard, ludicrous 'Worse Lieutenant;'
Fairuza Balk as a smokin' babe cop (words I never thought would pass through my lips); Michael Shannon as a stiff, shifty property room bureaucrat; Xzibit as the lively kingpin 'Big Fate;' and Jennifer Coolidge as a moralizing Stepmom who's always wasted... (on beer).
Things begin rather routinely (courtesy of L.A. LAW writer William Finkelstein), but quickly transmogrify into truly Herzogian madness- an alligator's wild-eyed lament over a roadkill'd lover; long-buried silver spoons that may or may not be pirate treasure; the best use of "OH YEAH" since Yello:
and the most egregious eyebrow indicating since KUFFS:
Herzog isn't afraid to ask the tough questions, either. Questions like, "Do fish dream?" "Did you remember to destroy all copies of the property voucher?" "Doesn't everyone have a lucky crack pipe?"
"What are these iguanas doing on my coffee table?"
and "Should we shoot him again?" And, of course, the answer to that last one is "Yes...because his soul is still [break]dancing."
This movie IS Nic Cage, hiding behind your bedroom door, shaving himself with a portable electric razor, unplugging your oxygen tank, plugging it back in, and screaming "It's people like you that fucked up this country!"
But at the same time, it's Herzog, crouched behind us, softly whispering his peculiar- yet soothing- maxims about the human condition into our ears. Sure, we've heard them many times over, and they're a little ludicrous if you start to really think about them, but damn– you've got to admit that, even at his whackiest, the man knows what the hell he's talking about. Five stars.
Side note: It must be said that the presence of breakdancing could be the influence of Executive Producer Boaz Davidson- a frequent Golan/Globus collaborator and director of GOING BANANAS and SALSA. I'm just happy that we can finally connect the dots between Werner Herzog and Cannon Films.
Additional side note: Cage's use of a .44 Magnum (Dirty Harry's gun) sort of leads me to believe that his off-kilter, in character appreciation of DIRTY HARRY in JULIEN DONKEY-BOY was, in fact, sincere! (Though of course, this is the man who has always said he'd prefer watching a kung fu film over one by Godard.)
Last side note: And, yes, this movie is actually called THE Bad Lieutenant, according to the main titles, which say "THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS," and then immediately let you know what city it's going to be taking place in with a new title, "NEW ORLEANS," in case there was any confusion. Ah, Herzog, how I love thee.