Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”
The Movie: “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Director: Werner Herzog
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Terence McDonagh is a drug- and gambling-addicted detective in post-Katrina New Orleans investigating the killing of five Senegalese immigrants.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent
Brown: You know, I didn’t think that a gritty crime drama would be way more bonkers than a story about a fictional wizard school like in last week’s pick “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
And then I found “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”
Granted, lunacy is a given when Nicolas Cage is your lead actor. Just ask Abed what that’ll do to a man.
But this drug-fueled yarn of murder in the Big Easy is one of the most ludicrous films we’ve watched on the JOE-DOWN since…
Well, since our last Nic Cage movie.
Beforehand, I had heard about how bonkers this movie is, the amount of drugs that Nic Cage’s character ingests and the fact that ride-pimping enthusiast Xzibit is one of the main protagonists.
But I don’t feel like anything truly prepares you for what “Bad Lieutenant” throws at you.
So Froemming, while I wonder about the origins of the iguanas that are on my coffee table, give me your initial thoughts.
Froemming: When you picked this, I was at first pumped because I thought we were going to watch the classic, Harvey Keitel vehicle that shares the same name:
Then I found out this movie has nothing to do with that, just used the name probably to trick people into watching a Nic Cage bananas movie. And the whole time I was watching this movie, I finally related to Elaine when she saw “The English Patient.”
See, yes this movie is bonkers. It is also boring as hell and is made by a guy I thought was this renowned director, dirty German Werner Herzog. The guy has been a part of the snobby filmmakers club since I was born, and if this movie proves anything, it is that he is a damn hack.
Brown, while I ponder why the hell a bookie would give a lieutenant his gambling winnings IN A POLICE STATION, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: We begin our story in New Orleans. And I’ll say this: “Bad Lieutenant” may be the worst press for the city of New Orleans since the Springfield Community Theater’s musical interpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
We’re in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, where New Orleans cops Terence McDonagh (Cage) and Stevie Pruit (Kilmer) go to a prison on the verge of flooding. Aside from finding an envelope with nudie pics of someone’s wife (that McDonagh pockets), they come across a prisoner on the verge of drowning.
Froemming: Given what we know about the dirty German people, I think the dirty pics were thankfully tame.
The prisoner is trapped in his cell, and the water is getting to the point where he will no longer be able to breathe, and what do our boys in blue do?
Mock him, take bets on how long before he dies, and then eventually Cage does his job and jumps into the water to free the guy.
Or so the Germans would have us believe.
Brown: For this rescue (apparently), McDonagh is given a medal and is promoted to lieutenant. But (apparently), this came at a cost.
Now, I keep using apparently, because Wikipedia tells us that McDonagh suffered a debilitating back injury as a result of the rescue.
I don’t know about you, Froemming, but did this movie give ANY indication that McDonagh hurt his back during this rescue? Because I just remember McDonagh diving in and then cutting to the medal ceremony.
Froemming: In between the rescue and the ceremony, there is a scene where he is talking to a doctor who says he will be on pain pills for the rest of his life because he hurt his back on the jump, I think? I stopped paying attention to that because pain pills, a professional troublemaker and wacky situations all began feeling familiar:
This movie is basically “House” only with our hero not being a brilliant doctor but a degenerate gambler and crack enthusiast.
Brown: Yeah, we did have the doctor scene, which is there to give Cage the fuel for his later drug-crazed madness. But how did he get hurt.
This is a visual medium. Show, movie. Don’t tell.
Froemming: But Herzog is a genius!
He is a reason I hate art.
Brown: I will say, I was hoping the doctor would tell McDonagh that he needs a backiatomy like he was Sir Smokes-A-Lot.
We fast-forward six months later and McDonagh is a full-blown addict. Not only is he taking Vicodin to deal with his back pain, but we see him snorting coke before he heads to a crime scene where a family of immigrants have been killed execution style.
As Cage takes a snort, I saw in the Amazon notes that in the coke scenes, Cage was snorting baby powder. So now, I have the image in my head of a disheveled Nic Cage roaming the aisles of a Wal-Mart looking for Johnson & Johnson, looking to get high off that sweet bottom powder.
Back at the station, McDonagh is put in charge of the murder case. I have to ask why the guy who doesn’t even holster his gun (Cage holds his revolver with his pants) gets ANY responsibility at this police station? That’s just poor decision making.
Also, McDonagh has a good-time pal in Frankie, a drug-addicted prostitute played by Eva Mendez. Yeah… McDonagh outkicked his coverage there.
Froemming: Most of this movie is window dressing showing how deviant Cage is, with a paper-thin plot trying to hold this all together. Now, this movie goes way over the top when he shakes down a prostitute and a john, looking for crack or coke or whatever.
He then savagely cucks this john while breathing in crack smoke from the hooker. To the point when the guy tries to run away, he fires his gun at him, because he wants him to watch. Which is a kink I will never understand.
Compare that with this from the original, which is way more terrifying and way less hilarious:
Brown: Did you see how McDonagh was smoking crack with this woman? With her blowing the smoke into his mouth? Or how he kept asking this woman about how terrible her childhood must have been while he was inside her? Or how McDonagh is having sex AND firing a warning shot to this cuckold?
This entire sequence is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever watched.
Froemming: Of course I saw this. I watched the movie. What kind of chucklehead question is that? This was less terrifying and more “this is what Columbo would be like with a serious drug problem.” Maybe because I have seen the original, crap like this just seemed more goofy and less scary.
Brown: Yeah, I never saw the original. And after seeing the Nic Cage version, I never will. Because nothing tops Cage.
Finding out that there was some groceries delivered to the scene prior to the murders, McDonagh goes to a nursing home to find the delivery boy, who lives with his grandma. Here, McDonagh runs a foul with a protective grandma and an old white Karen who gets pissy because her presence isn’t acknowledged. White people NEEDING to be noticed: ruining America since … well, forever. McDonagh eventually connects with the delivery boy, Daryl, who gives him the name of who ordered the murder: “Big Fate,” played by rapper Xzibit.
I take it that McDonagh won’t be getting his police cruiser tricked out.
Froemming: His associates’ names?
G and Midget. This movie is giving “Money Plane” a run for its money on laziness.
Also, this at least captured my attention from the torture porn of McDonagh’s life. A crime and an investigation. This movie should have been 45-minutes. Instead, it is ballooned out to two hours for some damn reason. I guess we need the POV shots of the alligators to make this an “art film.”
Anywho, some poor guy on probation is the first one picked up and McDonagh is pissed that Iceman is doing the interrogation, probably because he is a loose cannon who rocks at volleyball.
Brown: McDonagh is also on edge because he can’t get free confiscated drugs from the station anymore because they installed cameras in the evidence room.
And the person that breaks that bad news to McDonagh: Michael Shannon in a bad wig.
Now I want to see Shannon in this character read more bitchy sorority letters.
Froemming: I literally burst out laughing at poor Shannon with that Beatles wig on his head.
Brown: I wrote in my notes that Shannon looked disheveled like he was George Harrison, which was a nod to a Weekend Update joke by Norm MacDonald (RIP).
Froemming: So Iceman menaces the probation guy and McDonagh barges in, high out of his mind, and makes a scene. He then plays good cop, if the good cop was Hunter S. Thompson on a coke binge, to get information. He gets it alright, and because this movie is as scramble-brained as someone actually on crack, I have no idea what happens next? Has to watch his dad’s dog? The bookie? Fuck, this movie is a hot mess.
Brown: Yeah, there’s random scenes where McDonagh takes his dad’s dog while dad goes to rehab because McDonagh’s stepmom is a drunk.
There’s a point where McDonagh meets with his bookie (because of course he’s also a gambling addict). Did I mention the bookie is played by (REDACTED) Chucky himself, Brad Dourif.
After meeting with the bookie, McDonagh tries to curry his favor by getting Chucky’s daughter’s speeding tickets revoked. This leads to McDonagh hooking up with the girlfriend of Bobby Boucher from “The Waterboy.” McDonagh does that just to curry MORE favor and get the female officer to give him drugs from her precinct’s evidence room. Not exactly great pillow talk but, you know, Nic Cage is somehow a sex symbol in New Orleans?
I imagine Bobby Boucher wouldn’t have taken this relationship news very well.
Froemming: Should have followed his mother’s advice:
Also, there is this cop who gets mad at him for trying to make tickets go away. And during this highway crash scene, we get this idiotic POV shot from an alligator in a ditch because art.
I hate art so much.
Brown: Between the alligator shot and the iguanas at the drug bust shortly after this, my theory is that Nic Cage has usurped Val Kilmer as the Lizard King.
Froemming: Yeah, except it is more like this with this movie:
So that stuff and when we get to break-dancing Heroin Bob, I gotta say this: Werner Herzog is Hydrox David Lynch.
Brown: I had in my notes that this movie is “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” attempting to be a gritty crime drama. Seeing that I haven’t seen that film in its entirety, is that a far-off comparison, Froemming?
Froemming: Yes, in that “Vegas” focuses on psychedelics which are less “depressing” than heroin and coke and crack. And it is better written. And has a better director and cast. This movie is more along the lines of “The Room” meets “Requiem for a Dream.”
Now, for reasons I can’t explain, McDonagh takes the boy witness to a city an hour away so he can drop his dad’s dog off with his hooker friend. Because that is a smart thing to do with a frightened child witness to a brutal murder than involves New Orleans’ biggest drug smuggler.
They show up and McDonagh sees his friend-with-questionable-benefits has a real shiner from one of her johns. The john in question? A truly wasted use of actor Shea Whigham I have ever seen. McDonagh steals his money and the guy threatens him because his dad is a bigshot, and this cop is a smallfry. So, let’s add another truly useless plot element to this bloated film!
Then the witness runs off to the bathroom at a casino and somehow ends up in England, because this movie was written by a real chucklehead.
Brown: Up until the very end, with all the disjointed stories around McDonagh’s life combined with the obscene amount of drugs he consumes, I had a tried-and-true thought on what this movie was.
What I thought is the patented Jason Mantzoukas-inspired “Jacob’s Ladder” scenario.
Yes, I thought “Bad Lieutenant” was McDonagh’s hero’s journey while he dies from a drug overdose.
Later, we’ll find out that McDonagh Gumps his way through his career.
Also, there’s a point where Big Fate turns himself in to the police, and the district attorney wants hard evidence in order to prosecute Big Fate.
The DA’s name: Jeramiah Goodhusband.
Man, Cage can’t get away from powerful men named Jeramiah.
Froemming: Or so the Germans would have us believe.
After losing the boy, McDonagh decides in his drug-fueled madness that visiting the child’s grandmother in the nursing home is a great idea. And to get information from her, he cuts off oxygen to the old woman she is caring for, nearly killing her. He gets the England info, sure, but what he didn’t know was that the old woman was the mother of a congressman. Another element to an already bloated plotline with very little actual story.
This gets him in big trouble. Mess with a poor black nurse? That is fine, in this film’s logic. Nearly kill a rich old white lady with political ties? Well, the only person to get you out of that jam would be Trump when he was still president.
Brown: She has powers… POLITICAL POWERS!
Chucky hits up McDonagh again now that our hero is down $5,000. And, some gangsters working for the guy that roughed up Frankie wants $50,000 (plus sexual favors from Frankie, because why not?) in a matter of days.
McDonagh takes Frankie to his dad’s house because it’s a GREAT idea to bring a drug addict to the home of a drunk and a man going to AA meetings.
As this domestic dispute goes on, McDonagh is told that he’s being put on modified duty after, you know, depriving a boomer of her precious oxygen that she’s robbing younger generations of due to global warming and pollution.
So yeah, everything’s coming up Milhouse for McDonagh!
Froemming: Or so the Germans would have us believe.
Our hero decides to take a gamble. He needs quick cash, so he partners with Big Fate, cash for police information. This gets him his money to pay back Chucky, and he makes another bet, because this man is nothing but vices. This is when the ridiculousness of the movie hits Ludicrous Speed, so much so it goes plaid.
Brown: On McDonagh’s corruption alone, somewhere, Serpico is losing his shit.
Also, we need to review “Serpico.”
So to summarize, McDonagh is now:
- Offering information to a crime boss
- Betting and points shaving (after he catches a star football player in a drug deal and threatens him with jail time if he doesn’t help McDonagh win his bet
- Taking drugs from evidence
- Using drugs to pay off his debt to gangsters.
To put a neat little bow on it, we have Nicolas UN-Cage’d at this point.
And now, for one of the weirdest moments in JOE-DOWN history.
As McDonagh is getting uncut cocaine from Big Fate, the gangsters come in unannounced, wanting their $50,000. Now, not only do they want that, they want all the drugs they see around Big Fate and his cronies.
This leads to a shootout where I’m pretty sure Xzibit shoots a man in the dick while the rest of his men wipe out the people that barged into his home.
McDonagh wants them to shoot the gangsters one more time. Why?
Because their souls are still dancing.
Literally, we have souls dancing now.
What the fuck is this movie?
Froemming: The dancing soul looks like Heroin Bob in a red suit. It also looks like the Jumping Man from “Twin Peaks,” further making Herzog Hyrdrox Lynch.
Now, this and the lizards and whatnot is probably drug hallucinations or something, but it just comes off as, well, kinda stupid.
Brown: Again, this is Cage in this movie.
Froemming: Yeah, but unlike other Cage movies, this was not entertaining to me. Also, this gangster looks and dressed like a 1960s Batman villain. Or Don Cherry. It can be two things.
Brown: I’m stunned you know who Don Cherry is.
Froemming: There are things about me you don’t know, Brown.
Brown: Before the shootout, McDonagh gets Big Fate to take a puff from his “lucky crack pipe,” which McDonagh uses to plant evidence at the murder so they can put away our local drug lord.
Froemming: His lucky crack pipe reminds me of OJ’s Lucky Stabbing Hat.
Brown: During the arrest, Pruit is egging Big Fate on to grab his pistol so the cops can kill Big Fate. But NOW is apparently the time that McDonagh wants to be an honorable cop and bring the man to justice?
McDonagh, the man we saw smoke a joint in front of a perp and has gone through more baby powder than the family from “Jon & Kate Plus 8” decides to FINALLY be a good cop.
Get the (REDACTED) out of here, movie.
That’s insulting enough. But no, this movie then decides to wrap everything up in a neat little package.
Like Homer, I’m not being sarcastic. A year later, McDonagh is promoted to captain. He appears sober. His dad and stepmom are sober. Frankie is with child. They have a nice house that no cop salary could afford.
The only thing is, McDonagh isn’t sober. He sneaks into a hotel room and starts cutting up heroin until he’s visited by a familiar face.
Froemming: Yeah, the room service guy is the man he saved at the start of the movie. He has gotten his life together, is sober and thanks McDonagh for that. Except our hero is a worthless junkie in search of just one fix day to day. McDonagh asks if fish dream and then we see them at an aquarium with sharks. Because this is art, I guess there is symbolism here, but because I despise art, I have no idea what it is.
Werner Herzog is a hack.
Brown: We’ve said it before on the JOE-DOWN, this is Froemming around art:
Froemming, let’s go to recommendations before our souls stop dancing.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: This movie is a complete goddamn mess… but I’m fascinated by it. I say give it a watch and watch some good ol’ Nic Cage lunacy.
Froemming: No. This movie was a slog to get through. Cage is captivating in it, to an extent. It is not worth the time.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: