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During the flooding following Hurricane Katrina Detective Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) injures his back rescuing a prisoner from the rising waters. McDonagh gets a medal and promotion to Lieutenant for his trouble, and also finds himself addicted to pain killers. The pain killers lead to harder drugs, and naughtier behavior, including theft, illicit sex, and battery. McDonagh also embarks on a co-dependant relationship with a high class prostitute named Frankie (Eva Mendes), and starts a gambling losing streak that puts him in hot water with his bookie Ned (Brad Dourif). All the while McDonagh never stops being a cop, and his guilt and obsession begin to circle his latest murder case, which involves a family of immigrants. His addictions and obsessions lead him to some shocking unorthodox methods.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
The early announcements stating that charming oddball auteur Werner Herzog was remaking psychotic oddball auteur Abel Ferrara's 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant were certainly among the strangest movie related news items I’d ever read. The follow-up corrections that stated the project wasn’t a remake, but a sequel, didn’t quite quell the nerves. Audiences now know Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans isn’t really a remake or a sequel, but a sort of relocation of the badly behaved lead character. Still, the existence of this film isn’t rendered any less weird, even after seeing the final product. The news would not be surprising had some random, corporate owned director been attached to a Bad Lieutenant remake (I believe Lionsgate owns the rights to the original film), as the basic concept is simple enough to readapt with a mainstream, modern action slant (Ferrara’s best film, to my taste, Ms. 45 has been more or less remade a dozen times), but Werner Herzog’s interest baffles me. I suppose Rescue Dawn was a reasonably mainstream film, and I admit I’ve not seen more than half of Herzog’s features, but my bewilderment is cemented, and colours my entire film review.

The two Bad Lieutenants are quite comparable beyond superficial levels, no matter what Herzog’s pre-release sound-bites may have insisted. Both ‘Bad Lieutenants’ smoke crack, steal drugs, have gambling problems, commit public sex acts under threat of arrest, and have relationships with prostitutes. Both films feature structural and thematic similarities as well, but the differences are just as important in terms of contextualization and comparison. These differences have more to do with tone and characterization than plot. Ferrara’s film is a nightmarish, disturbing, fully frontally nude decent into a smoky hell, while Herzog seems to be more interested in entertaining his audience with the ridiculousness of the protagonist’s madness. Bad Lieutenant is a difficult to dissect, Catholic guilt redemption tale, and is weird for seemingly pointed reasons, and Port of Call New Orleans comes off more as a mixed spoof of Ferrara’s original, and modern television crime drama. From what I can gather the film is bizarre for the sake of humourous excess, and it’s really not excessive or bizarre enough to earn the 'right', at least not considering the source and filmmaker.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
I normally expect a solid untold stories, and/or a healthy dose of meditative subtext from Herzog, but Port of Call: New Orleans isn’t a particular original take on cops and robbers, or a downfall (it really is kind of a remake, up to the final 30 minutes), and it has only the most incidental attachments to modern New Orleans, and the Hurricane Katrina incident. I suppose the back injury incurred during the flooding does set the character’s spiral spinning, but it’d be a stretch to consider the weight of the event pertinent to the subtext. I assumed that I’d be seeing New Orleans through a European Art House lens, but there’s little here to even prove the film wasn’t shot in any other random Southern coastal city. There are magically little hallucinatory moments here and there (the close-up treatment of reptiles is wonderfully cockeyed), and the final reel verges on riveting, but the bulk of the film feels too conventional. The one predictably weird element is Nicolas Cage’s bug-eyed performance. We’re all used to Cage taking it over-the-top, but his sudden development of a James Cagney accent almost exactly in the center of the film is probably a first for the actor. I’m not saying it’s not an entertaining performance (Cage’s body language is fantastic), it’s just a little…inconsistent, which is, once again, weird. The other actors are all somewhat stilted, which pushes Cage’s histrionics a little more into the audience’s faces, but doesn’t quite create a sense of belonging.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


Herzog once again aims for a natural, almost verite look on this film, but his lack of stylistic overload doesn’t equal a wasted 1080p transfer. The whole of the print is clean, exhibiting only fine grain, and the image quality is reasonably sharp without any major compression issues. Occasionally the garish qualities of the story drip into the look, and the pallet will feature some brighter, fuller hues (bars and arcades), but for the most part Port of Call: New Orleans flips between pretty simple, and natural warm and cool compositions. Interestingly enough the majority of the film is set in broad daylight, so details aren’t often hidden within darkened sequences (which are grainier than the daylight scenes, but sharply lit overall). Herzog utilizes a pretty even hand in terms of contrast, and mostly keeps his focus shallow, so there isn’t an excess of super-fine or deep-set detail. The production used different cameras for some of the more extreme close-up shots, and these shots are grainier, and sloppier than the rest of the transfer (anything to do with an animal seems to apply here).

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


Sound wise this Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Blu-ray release follows the First Look norm, and comes fitted with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. The dialogue, which is clearly the most important element on this track, is uncommonly inconsistent for a 2010 movie. Volume and clarity can noticeably change mid-scene, mostly during incidental cuts. The lip-sync is also off on occasion, and sometimes echo cuts in where it wasn’t an issue a second earlier. These are occasional issues, and probably have everything to do with Herzog’s style, but they’re there for noticing. Incidental noise is a mostly frontal affair, mostly coming from the center channel, but featuring some activity in the stereo channels. The rear channels are very subtle in terms of effects activity, excepting some crowd noise, birds, occasional gunshots, etcetera, and directional effects are mostly a non-entity. The film’s music is the best measure of the uncompressed sound, and features some impressive LFE levels and directional elements.


‘The Making of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ (31:00, SD) is a lose little behind-the-scenes featurette that despite an excess of existential chatting from Herzog still gives me no understanding of what he saw in the project, other than comedy. The material is rough, but reasonably well edited. Basic subject matter includes first day rituals, filming with alligators (real dead alligator), the flooded set, filming in rain, filming in the heat, break-dancing, and iguanas. The extras are wrapped up with Lena Herzog’s on-set photography, an ‘alternate’ trailer, and other First Look trailers.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans did not meet my perhaps unfair expectations, which probably puts me in a rather lonely category of people that wanted something even wackier from director Werner Herzog and his capable cast. I’m also, again, perhaps unfairly, comparing the film to Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant, which is very possibly not the point of the exercise. There are genuinely magical moments throughout the film, and the last act is pretty great (especially if we’re comparing it to Ferrara’s original film), so a viewing is still recommended. The Blu-ray won’t over-impress in terms of video or audio, but there are few specific problems. The extras are a bit short and low on production values (and anyone with ears would prefer a Herzog commentary), but there’s some decent information to be found in the making-of featurette.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality