Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call New Orleans Review

As a film fan I follow a lot of film news online and there are many stories that I often assume are false or to bizarre to ever actually come to fruition. Examples of this include news such as Ridley Scott making a film based on the board game Monopoly, Universal making a film based on the video game Asteroids, the sixty year old Stallone’s plans to make new Rocky and Rambo films… oh wait.

The fact is though that Hollywood executives often make incredibly strange decisions and greenlight films that you would never believe could ever get made. One of these news stories that struck me as insanity was a report that Werner Herzog was set to remake the 1992 Abel Ferrara film, Bad Lieutenant and the subsequent news that it was to star Nicholas Cage in the lead role. Surely this couldn’t be true? The director of Fitzcarraldo and the star of National Treasure? Sure enough though, roughly eighteen month later I sat down to watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans at the London Film Festival.

Port of Call, as I shall refer to it in this review, is not strictly a remake of Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and is more of a remake thematically. The story has been relocated to New Orleans and the narratives have the same themes of a badly behaved lieutenant involved in drugs and gambling, but the narratives differ in many other ways. Herzog has actually said that he has not seen the original film and also allegedly attempted to get ‘Bad Lieutenant’ removed from the title, perhaps explaining probably the longest and clumsiest title of a film this year. Ferrara, clearly unhappy at the film getting remade has said that the makers of Port of Call “should all die in hell.”

In Port of Call, Nicholas Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop who, following the flooding of a prison by Hurricane Katrina, rescues a prisoner and in the process injures his back. Suffering from long term pain as a result of this injury, Terence is prescribed Vicodin, which he supplements with a variety of illegal narcotics, cocaine and crack seemingly his favourites. Cage plays Ternence with noticeable back problems, loping around with his gun tucked in his trousers throughout. In many ways Cage plays the character of Terence expertly, finally finding a really good excuse for his hyperbolic acting style, with many scenes making you wonder if Cage actually lost his mind during filming.

Some moments are truly bizarre, including one scene in which Terence is hiding behind a door waiting for two old ladies he needs to speak to. Once they enter the room he reveals himself and talks to them whilst shaving with an electric razor, only to subsequently fly in to a fit of rage pointing his gun at one of their heads and calling them a cunt. By this point Terence Mcdonagh is going insane. He has had almost no sleep, he is on a variety of drugs and has escalating gambling debts. He is on a case in which he is trying to find those responsible for the death of a Sengalese family who were dealing drugs in an area controlled by Big Fate, played by Xzibit.

Terence states at one point that “It’s amazing what you can get done when you’ve got a single purpose guiding you through life” and it appears to be the homicide case that he is referring to but it quickly becomes clear that Terence’s single purpose in life is getting high, very very high. He ends up teaming up with Big Fate, protecting him in order to make money and to procure some high quality crack. He has a strong relationship with his girlfriend, a prostitute named Frankie (Eva Mendes), who he defends against a john who turns out to be connected and whose associates demand money. He also racks up a huge debt gambling on baseball games and is threatened by his bookie, played by Brad Dourif. All these strands pull together hilariously in one of the last scenes of the film, when all the major characters come into his office in quick succession.

Port of Call is filmed in a baffling style throughout, as although a lot of the film looks like a television police procedural drama there are some shots filmed with a handheld camera, down on the ground following an alligator, that may or may not really be there and at another point, and later two iguanas, that are almost certainly hallucinations of Terence. In the Iguana scene, Terence is watching the Iguanas, which his partner Stevie (Val Kilmer) has assured him aren’t there, his eyes slowly moving back to look at them whilst the other characters in the room look straight ahead. The scene plays for so long that it has the effect of being first amusing, then strange and dull and then finally laugh out loud hilarious.

The casting of Val Kilmer is also as inspired as the casting of Cage. Kilmer plays his character with comic excess and although not given much screen time he is very memorable as a cop with a moral centre perhaps more skewed even than Terence’s. Eva Mendes is competent in her role but does little to shine, unlike Jennifer Coolidge as Genevieve, Terence’s step mother, who, although more famous for her comedic roles, is excellent here in a dramatic role.

One disappointing aspect of the film is actually the setting, which looks incredibly flat and bland. Despite the opening scene of a flooded jail, the post-Katrina New Orleans is not used to full effect as a setting and in many places the film feels as if it could have been easily relocated elsewhere.

The film is peppered with crazed moments and has a wealth of quotable dialogue that is truly ridiculous, including “You don’t have a favourite crack pipe?”, “A man without a gun, that’s not a man” and the hilarious Shea Whigham constantly saying “Oh yeah”. This sort of dialogue and the general insanity of the film will surely make Port of Call a cult classic and if you are willing to accept for what it is then there is a lot of enjoyment to be had.

That said there is another level to the film as a commentary on the American Dream and the cowboy myth perpetuated in American culture. The ending differs greatly from Ferrara’s original, but perhaps in the light hearted nonsense of Port of Call there is a stronger message, a critical comment against America.

Terence has a single purpose in life, one that he pursues without ever giving up and he lives the American Dream, getting everything he desires.