Cage plays Terence McDonagh, an already somewhat bent workaholic detective in post-Katrina New Orleans whose questionable aspects escalate to the Nth degree once he becomes addicted to painkillers prescribed in the wake of a back injury. Having access to the evidence room, McDonagh regularly supplements his drug intake with whatever illegal pharmaceuticals are available, plus whatever goodies he finds during the course of his daily investigations, plunging himself into depths of altered lunacy that would have turned Hunter S. Thompson green with envy. At its heart the most pitch black of black comedies, the film is an over-the-top and thoroughly compelling narrative of one man’s odyssey of incredibly fucked-up behavior, fueled by copious amounts of coke-snorting, petty theft, compulsive high-stakes gambling, sexual coercion of shaken-down clubgoers, harassment of senior citizens, blunt-smoking and hallucinations guest-starring iguanas.
While this maelstrom of out-of-control madness swirls insanely, our hero investigates the execution-style murder of an African drug dealer’s family while simultaneously dealing with the issues of his loving and equally coked-up hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes). It’s a complete and utter shitstorm that resolves itself in several moments that had me loudly exclaiming, “This has got to be a dream!” and at no point was I bored. In fact, about the only way I could have been more entertained by this film is if it had been directed by British madman Ken Russell — he of LISZTOMANIA (1975) and THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER (2002) infamy — as opposed to Werner Herzog.
BAD LIEUTENANT-PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS can’t really be discussed at length without giving away an intricate web of seemingly disparate plot elements that do turn out to go somewhere, so I’ll simply offer a few things to note:
- If Nicholas Cage has turned in a better performance, I would like to know about it. Cage is an actor who is widely despised for reasons that continue to elude me; I like the guy a lot (perhaps because of my natural affinity for Italians?) despite many of his movies being clunkers, but an actor should not be held accountable for a film’s script deficiencies, so I hope people will give this movie a chance.
- Eva Mendes somehow manages to be appealing, despite her character, Frankie, being a majorly drug-addicted whore.
- Val Kilmer, though underused to an extent, is fun as McDonagh‘s partner.
- My girl Fairuza Balk turns in a brief appearance as Heidi, a corrupt and kinky highway cop pal of the protagonist, and her look while wearing naught but black undies and her highway-fuzz boots is quite memorable. More prominent roles for her, please!
- My favorite actress who serially performs roles of skanky hags, Jennifer Coolidge (best known as the “M.I.L.F.” in AMERICAN PIE), is seen here in fine anti-glamorous form as the protagonist’s father’s beer-swilling girlfriend. I’ve been an avid Coolidge fan since BEST IN SHOW (2000) and welcome any opportunity I get to see her work her singular sleazy magic. This is her most interesting turn since Eugenie the ‘ho in POOTIE TANG (2001).
- Contrary to its packaging’s description, the film is in no way an action movie. It’s a character study. Other than one brief firefight, there is no gunplay whatsoever to be had.