Lena Herzog
Owen Gleiberman
November 19, 2009 AT 05:00 AM EST

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Current Status
In Season
121 minutes
Limited Release Date
Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Xzibit
Werner Herzog
First Look
Mystery and Thriller

We gave it an A-

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-

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