Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Movie: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. Along with Frequency, it’s on the very short list of movies in which the New York Mets are essential to the plot. I revisited the film last year and while Harvey Keitel’s performance is still galvanizing, it didn’t hold it up as well I’d hoped. It’s very Catholic, and I bring that to the table already. And the truth is a lot of movies from the ‘90s indie film heyday don’t date very well.

You don’t need to have seen version one to make sense of Werner Herzog’s in name only sequel. You may not make sense of it anyway. But I loved every minute of it.

Nicolas Cage is the title cop. His Terrence McDonagh is no angel at the outset, but after wrenching his back rescuing a prisoner in the wake of Hurricane Katrina he becomes addicted to painkillers and that accelerates his downward spiral. McDonagh is a dogged but demented detective, determined to find out who murdered an immigrant family while juggling his own criminal endeavors and indulging various appetites.

Cage is almost the whole show here, harking back to his wild, early, Vampire’s Kiss-era performances. His enthusiasm for silent film acting comes across in his walk, which had my back aching after ten minutes. His accent devolves as the movie progresses; halfway through he sounds like Tony Clifton. But his hell-for-leather inventiveness is given a sturdy framework courtesy of the script by TV veteran William M. Finklestein (who saves a few choice lines for himself as a weary gangster).

The movie’s funny, weird, and subversive. The scene in which Cage’s many problems are resolved rat-a-tat-tat plays like some deadpan existential sitcom, as if Samuel Beckett wrote an episode of My Two Dads. Ferrara’s film may come across as more serious; every minute he’s on screen Keitel is wrestling with demons, while Cage merely seems to be playing footsie with fate. Then you get to Port Of Call’s ending, which is moving, even transcendent. I don’t know if Port of Call is a joke or a work of art. I can only say that I enjoyed it tremendously.