In his schlocky paycheck movies, Nicolas Cage glowers and throws tantrums, as if trying to prove he really means it, man. He does the same thing in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog’s loopy and improbably entertaining remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara dark-side-of-everything cult classic. Except that Cage is now doing his operatic bug-eyed intensity thing because the role actually calls for it. As Terence McDonagh, a homicide cop who is always high on coke and heroin, Cage walks with a crooked slouch and a barely visible tilt of the head; he gives this rogue officer a touch of Igor. McDonagh whips himself into adrenalized states beyond doubt or fear, but he also uses his addictions to be a better cop. He’s a crackhead undercover agent in hell.
Bad Lieutenant doesn’t go where you expect, but it has a stubborn, trippy logic. Herzog stages the film as a modern noir, with McDonagh’s investigation into a gang slaying entangled in his gambling habit, his attempts to keep his hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes) happy and high, and other troubles. The film even has iguanas — real live scaly ones, shot in acid-head close-up, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that the only one who can see them is McDonagh. They’re a vision of evil, of the way that addiction drags you down into the serpent world. Bad Lieutenant makes that a scarily arresting place to be. A-