Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, and Val Kilmer. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, November 20, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Werner Herzog hasn’t been himself for a long time. Gone are the days when this former god of new German cinema could make movies about opera-mad millionaires hauling boats up mountainsides in pursuit of impossible dreams, or hypnotized peasants blowing glass on lofty alpine peaks. Occasionally, he still gets the chance to make documentaries about visionary loners in isolated corners of the globe, but that’s about it.
For the most part, he now takes what he can get.
Presumably, this is why he agreed to direct Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Clearly inspired by Abel Ferrara’s 1992 feature of almost the same name, this Big Easy crime drama was clearly meant to reproduce the same demonic energy that drove the original across the borders of exploitation and into the realm of art. To be sure, Terence McDonagh southern style has most of the vices of his New York counterpart (originally played by Harvey Keitel)—he’s a sexually abusive, corrupt, addicted train wreck waiting to happen—but, as portrayed by Nicolas Cage, he lacks the essential tragic gravitas.
Watch the trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Herzog is not exactly renowned for his gunfights, grope sessions, or other exhibitions of urban depravity, so it’s hard to figure out why he was asked to helm this flick. To make matters worse, although he speaks English perfectly, he has no ear for accents, so his actors’ line readings are often atrocious. He does try to include a personal touch here and there (the repeated references to reptiles, for instance), but this is a failed face-saving gesture at best.
As an artist torn between Friedrich Nietzsche and Christ, between family values and unbridled lust, between heroin and art, Ferrara is at his best when telling stories about damnation and partial redemption.
Herzog, conversely, is at his absolute worst.