Starring: Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner
Directed by: Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn”)
Written by: William M. Finkelstein (debut)
It’s much easier to take an actor like Nicolas Cage seriously when he’s not making movies just for the paycheck. While many in Hollywood are certainly guilty of being hypnotized by the mighty dollar, there’s something about Cage doing it that makes it even more offensive. Maybe it’s because when he stars in films like “Bangkok Dangerous,” “Knowing” or “The Wicker Man” it’s evident that he’s simply going through the motions and hoping his star power will be enough to make the project watchable. Or maybe it’s because when Cage is truly at the top of his game (“Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Adaptation”) it’s so hard not to be mesmerized by his on-screen presence you wish it wasn’t such a rarity.

With that said, Cage’s new film “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans” is fortunately another of those diamonds in the rough. A bizarrely interesting film by director Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn”), “Lieutenant” is the exact role Cage needed to get out of his three-year slump. It’s a manic character study brimming with high-energy dialogue and sarcasm perfect for Cage’s exaggerated tendencies.

In “Lieutenant,” which is very loosely based on the 1992 film of the same name (sans subtitle), Cage takes on the role of Terence McDonagh, a drug-addicted police detective investigating the murders of a Senegalese family living in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Hopped up on pain killers and cocaine, Terence blazes through Sin City using his badge to get whatever he wants. Whether it’s cutting in line at the pharmacy or having sex with young women he pulls over for traffic infractions, the lieutenant has a nasty streak.

Despite his moments of lunacy, there is some goodness in Terence that he just can’t seem to exude any which way but raw. When he befriends a group of drug dealers lead by kingpin Big Fate (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner), who may be linked to the brutal killings, it’s really not certain whether Terence is actually infiltrating the gang to solve the crime or to get a fix. His relationship with prostitute Frankie Donnenfeld (Eva Mendes) doesn’t help clean up his image either.

“The Bad Lieutenant” is a deranged and humorous film and Herzog knows how to get the best from his leading man. While we watch Terrance snort, fidget and space out and see him hallucinate iguanas and self-destruct, it’s evident that there is a method to all of Cage’s madness. In “Lieutenant,” he pushes his limits and the results are quite impressive in a kind of freakish way.

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