Review: Bad Lieutenant (18)

By Giles Broadbent on May 26, 2010 12:19 PM |


Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans (18)

Corrupt cop Terence McDonagh is a drug and gambling addict who crosses - and sniffs - the line to hunt down a killer.

Nicolas Cage goes from nought to c-r-a-z-y in the bat of a reptile's eye playing his meatiest character since the last time he was required to take a role for a ride.

His wide-eyed psycho two-step has found a perfect partner in director Werner Herzog whose tics and twirls behind the camera are no less eccentric.

Herzog and Cage put Terence McDonagh through the mill, recalling - but wholly re-imagining - Harvey Keitel's rotten apple in Abel Ferrara's 1993 original.

Here, the New Orleans detective rescues a prisoner from a cell drowning beneath Katrina's stinking waves and for his efforts gets a promotion to lieutenant and chronic bad pain. He takes Vicodin before progressing to more compelling medications.

So McDonagh is hunched and high for much of this film and this wrenching spasm acts as a metaphor for the tortured distortion of his moral compass.

The lieutenant's investigation of the death of a family of small-time Senegalese drug dealers brings him into contact with some big fish, including Xzibit's Big Fate, who knows his way round the rule book and keeps out of reach.

But he hasn't accounted for McDonagh's lop-sided gait which zig-zags him across the line, reaching where no straight cop can get.

And while he's pursuing his prey, McDonagh raids the police stores for powders, shakes down clubbers for their pocket stash and scares the rollers off old ladies who won't spill the necessary.

And, when his gambling debts catch up with him and the plates start spilling, he sells out wholesale to Big Fate to keep his creditors at bay.

But Cage keeps McDonagh within reach of redemption. His love for high-class hooker Frankie (Eva Mendes) keeps him invested and his flotsam and jetsam of hangers-on never taste the brutish tang of his toxic turns.

Herzog throws in some gloriously off-beat cameos to add spice to the fruitcake, with Elmore Leonard-esque bad guys facing off without a Plan B.

And if the movie occasionally judders and spurts like a Lotus with L-plates, you're never too far away from another slice of bonkers. (Iguanas singing Please Release Me, anyone?)

This is a hazy, crazy outing. A routine procedural (written by NYPD Blue's William Finkelstein) is given a whole new dimension with mesmeric Cage on blistering form, creating an ambivalent, charismatic sleazeball who might or might not seek salvation right after he's shifted another dose up that impeccable equine snozzle.