31 December 2009

At the movies: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

When a remake of 1992's Abel Ferrara masterpiece Bad Lieutenant was announced, the world cinema community was dumbstruck.

When director Werner Herzog and star Nicolas Cage were attached to the project, jaws dropped. And then an initial trailer, featuring Cage's character's lucky crack pipe and visions of iguanas, surfaced, and everything seemed to make a strange sort of sense. This is in no way tied directly to Ferrara's film, with its Catholic iconography and druggy Passion Play, it just dives into similar sensibilities of drug-fuelled excess and the juxtaposition of drug addiction in the hands of authority.

Also, where Ferrara's film was a relentless dive into the dankest levels of humanity, Herzog and crew have given us a fairly bonkers swerve through the darkest humor one could hope for, which makes a lot of difference.

Detective Terrence McDonough (Nicolas Cage) is plagued by agonizing back pain ever since he saved the life of a prisoner drowning during the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Now in the midst of a crippling addiction to pain pills and socially unacceptable thrills, he finds himself investigating the murders of a Senegalese family and trying to stay one step ahead of his bookie.

Where can hope be found for a man stuck far along the edge of life? If you said, hooker girlfriend and running mad schemes from the police station to the most resplendent mansions of crime bosses, then you would be right on the money.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans isn't just one of the best comedies of the year, it's nothing less than a complete artistic rebirth for Nicolas Cage. After toiling for so long in crappy mainstream action flicks (ConAir, National Treasure) and offering gonzo turns in otherwise unworthy films (Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man), here at last is the talent who floored the world in Wild at Heart; disrespecting the elderly, smoking crack, solving murders, doing dirty sex stuff with club trash in front of their boyfriends, fighting with small-time hoods, and trying to simultaneously run the trap game and the cop game. Cage does all this and more.

Add in an understated performance from national treasure Jennifer Coolidge and exceptional reptile effects, and you have one of the gleaming surprises of the year. Not to be missed.

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