Sunday, December 6, 2009

434) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

434) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) Dir: Werner Herzog Date Released: November 2009 Date Seen: December 6, 2009 Rating: 2.25/5

"It's amazing what you can do with a simplified purpose in life," Terence McDonagh (Nic Cage) explains through gritted teeth at one point in Werner Herzog's remake of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992)--Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. That one line sums up why Herzog's interested in Ferrara's character but not why he needed to resurrect the character and put him in a new setting armed with a new set of quirks. That's a mystery for the "film theoreticians" Herzog petulantly challenged to analyze his film. Though its more telling in this case, that challenge is reminiscent of when John Waters said he made a movie just so he could have brunch with its female lead on a regular basis.* The difference is that Herzog doesn't know how to make a joke while Waters doesn't know how to stop. It's both Herzog's way of fending off detractors from accusing him of needlessly resurrecting the film and his way of admitting that there's nothing to his logic behind making the film save for his characteristic interest in the character's childishly simplified worldview. It's just that simple, in more ways than one.

Fun though it may be to watch Nic Cage lurk about for two hours in search of his next fix, money to pay his bookie, more drugs, a mass-murderer and then some more illicit substances, it's ultimately pretty disheartening to watch a performer as talented at bugging out as he is do it all for nothing. Herzog's film announces its film's focus on racial tension in a post-Katrina NOLA in its title. Then again, as McDonagh points out to one of a veritable parade of users and soon-to-be victims of his Rx-lust, the "port of call" could be anywhere: he could be there one minute and be in Chicago the next. Race is an issue in any city, making screenwriter POCNO screenwriter William M. Finkelstein's smug fixation with pointing out the racial dimension to McDonagh's self-image as a "White Knight" just another blind lead. Finkelstein doesn't even go that far in fleshing out McDonagh's latent but unavoidable liberal condescension: he defends and/or makes deals with black people but most white people he crosses he hustles and/or holds up. It's especially disappointing considering how far Herzog pushes the envelop when it comes to McDonagh's hallucinations (break-dancing and iguanas: nuf said). Again, it's a real pity that Cage doesn't get material worthy of his awesome shambling performance; I cared enough to see him, not his character, get closure that never came but otherwise, not a wit.

*The exact film and actress elude me; a little help here?

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