German wild-man Werner Herzog blissfully resurrects old-school Nicolas Cage in this hilarious, noir-infested tale about a drug-addled homicide detective whose disintegration (both moral and physical) coincides with that of his hurricane-ravaged hometown.
Only loosely related to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 original, Herzog’s clunkily titled ode to B-level crime movies follows the exploits of Terence McDonagh (Cage) as he cruises post-Katrina New Orleans while popping prescription pills to alleviate his aching back. In fact, McDonagh’s barely functioning professional life is consumed by a drug habit rapidly run amok — he pilfers illegal substances from the police station’s evidence room and harangues club kids for blow (and blow jobs). His never-ending quest for drugs is periodically interrupted by visits to his girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes), a high-class hooker with an equally acute drug problem, his bookie (an understated Brad Dourif) and a ruthless drug dealer (Xzbit) who might or might not be the leading suspect in the murder investigation that serves as the film’s narrative centerpiece.
But, as is the case in many a Herzog fictional effort, the narrative takes a backseat to the director’s unique, often surreal touches (including a sequence involving iguanas and a nice use of on-location New Orleans) and his obvious nurturing of Cage’s gonzo portrayal of a man on the edge of madness (not since Wild at Heart has Cage been as deliriously over the top).
Bad Lieutenant is a skuzzy, go-for-broke gem in a sea of play-it-safe mediocrity. Grade: A-
Opens Feb. 5 at the Esquire Theatre.