5-Word 365 #340 – The Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call: New Orleans

It would appear my impromptu Eva Mendes retrospective has become an actual event. Funny how that happens.

The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleansbad-lieutenant-poster

My soul is still dancing.

New Orleans cop Terrence McDonagh has just been promoted to lieutenant after saving the life of a prisoner who was about to drown when Katrina flooded the holding cells. After injuring his back in this act of heroism, he is prescribed painkillers to which he soon becomes addicted, along with every other drug he can get his hands on. His self-destructive behaviour comes to a head during the investigation into the murder of a family of illegal immigrants. Iguanas ensue.

I’m going to get my apologies out of the way first. Real life is intruding, so today’s column might be a bit shorter than most. There is quite a lot I’d like to say about this movie but I just don’t have the time to say it all. Maybe I’ll expand it for the book.

Werner Herzog’s sort-of sequel/follow-up/remake/whatever* of Abel Ferrara’s epic examination of Catholic guilt shifts the action from the grime of New York to a recovering New Orleans, and shifts the tone from tragedy to a deliciously skewed black comedy. Nicolas Cage fully embraces the crazy as the chemically assisted McDonagh. I don’t think I’ve seen someone take this many different drugs in a film since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Watching his descent from mostly decent cop to someone who would pull a gun on an old lady in a wheelchair (one of the film’s funniest scenes, by the way) is definitely the highlight of the movie. McDonagh is grounded by his prostitute girlfriend Frankie, another beautiful but damaged character for Eva Mendes to sink her teeth into. And sink her teeth in, she does. If Terrence is the whirlwind of insanity driving the plot, then Frankie is the emotional core of the story.

Here's a good game: try and guess exactly what McDonagh is high on in any given scene!

Here’s a good game: try and guess exactly what McDonagh is high on in any given scene!

Herzog has assembled a strong supporting cast to back up these two, including Val Kilmer as McDonagh’s partner Stevie; Shea Whigham as one of Frankie’s clients; Brad Dourif as McDonagh’s bookie; and Xzibit as local gangster Big Fate. William Finkelstein’s script just crackles with excitement, giving every character their share of great lines and moments. There is an argument to be made about how much of what we see is actually happening and how much is just a figment of McDonagh’s addled mind. That would be a fun conversation to have with Werner Herzog no doubt.

"What have you done with my iguanas!"

“What have you done with my iguanas!”

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, as the two share no connecting tissue besides the title. Herzog himself claimed never to have even seen it when this flick was first being screened. This is an excellent film, with a gloriously frantic Nicolas Cage performance at its core. Nicolas unCaged, if you will. I’m sorry, I know that’s incredibly cheesy but I always just liked the sound of it.

*Apparently he calls it a rethought. Yeah, okay.


  1. Mark Walker · December 6, 2012

    I was a big fan of Ferrara’s version Ryan but like you say they have no connection at all and this stands it’s own ground. Great movie and one of Cage’s better days at the office.

    • Ryan McNeely · December 7, 2012

      Absolutely. It’s good to see him really cut loose again after so long.

  2. filmhipster · December 6, 2012

    Cage was pretty psychotic…it was surprisingly good.

    • Ryan McNeely · December 7, 2012

      I’m a big Herzog fan anyway, so I was expecting it to be pretty decent. It was more enjoyable than Ithought it would be though, and that’s always good.

  3. theipc · December 6, 2012

    HMMM – I recall hating this movie for some reason – but I think I was pretty loaded when I watched it. I should give it another shot some time.

    • Ryan McNeely · December 7, 2012

      Honestly I think I might have had even more fun if I was blasted! Maybe I should give that a try 🙂

  4. Fogs' Movie Reviews · December 6, 2012

    Glad you see the humor here (hard not to). I think this flick is hysterical! Love it!

    To the break of DAWNNNNN!!!! 😀

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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