- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is a terrible title for Werner Herzog’s new film.

It’s not that it’s an untruthful one. The character of the title, played intensely with a kind of world-weary finesse by Nicolas Cage, is certainly one dirty cop. And, in an inspired bit of location casting, he does use his badge to procure drugs and sex in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The problem is that the title makes it look like a remake of the 1992 film, which starred Harvey Keitel as the troubled officer. The two films do share, broadly, a plot — but that’s all. Their sensibilities couldn’t be more different. While both are shocking films, Abel Ferrara’s work disturbed through a dramatic fable, while Mr. Herzog’s does it through pitch-black comedy. This “remake” turns out to be one of the most interesting surprises of the year.

Officer Terence McDonagh actually becomes bad through doing a good deed. After he saves a prisoner in the floods, his injured back leads to an addiction to prescription drugs and then the harder stuff. His enabler is Frankie Donnenfeld (Eva Mendes), his prostitute girlfriend, who gets both protection and cocaine from him.

He doesn’t seem much interested in sex, though. When he stops a pair leaving a club in the hopes of scoring drugs, he couples with the girl more for the power gained in humiliating her date than any sexual satisfaction he might be getting. He asks out a fellow cop (Fairuza Balk) when he hears she’s in charge of the proceeds of stings: “Property room? What’re you doing tonight?”

In between these adventures around the ruined city, he investigates the murder of an African family that he believes was ordered by the drug lord Big Fate (rapper Xzibit). The moniker is an apt one: Whereas redemption might have been the theme of Mr. Ferrara’s film, fate — a more secular idea — plays a bigger role in Mr. Herzog’s.

So does visuality. Mr. Herzog is an inventive filmmaker, and he takes great pleasure in bringing to life some of Terence’s crack hallucinations in wonderfully manic scenes. Just as crazy is the humor in this film — perhaps uncomfortably, you’ll find yourself laughing at some of Terence’s worst deeds.

This movie isn’t perfect. Val Kilmer, who plays a fellow cop, disappointingly disappears for most of the film. And Miss Mendes’ prostitute seems a little too forgiving of the on-the-edge Terence at times. Yet Mr. Herzog and writer William M. Finkelstein have crafted an extremely entertaining film, a genre piece that at times looks made for the art house.

★★★

TITLE: “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”

RATING: R (drug use and language throughout, some violence and sexuality)

CREDITS: Directed by Werner Herzog. Written by William M. Finkelstein, based on the film “Bad Lieutenant” by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund.

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

WEB SITE: badlt.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS