For the first time in Werner Herzog’s fascinating career the bizarre worlds he has both explored and shaped feel peculiar not because of an intriguing subject matter or an enigmatic protagonist but because the film is so untraceably Herzogian. Innocuous cinematography and an aimless script bear no resemblance thematically to previous Herzog films as Nic Cage’s demented LA cop snorts and inhales his way through a missing persons investigation. This structural unfamiliarity does not in of itself warrant the film a bad review but it presses the question on the mind of any Herzog fan, “why on Earth did he make this?”
Despite Herzog’s claim to the contrary, Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call – New Orleans (a bloated attempt at stamping the film with Herzog’s traditionally hyperbolic titles) does actually seek to mirror and reference Ferrara’s original story which sees Harvey Keitel exploit his role as a drug addled police officer in similar situations to that of Nic Cage. The most notable instance of deja-vu is Cage’s terrorisation of two drugged up lovers in a car park that invites comparisons with Keitel’s infamously disturbing shake down of two joyriding women that culminates in him masturbating through a car window. Cage, seemingly not so keen to masturbate on screen, opts instead to fuck the girlfriend of the man he has just confiscated a stash of drugs from. The scene is meant to be funny. It’s not.
The decision to relocate the action from New York to a recently pulverised New Orleans would, you think, take greater precedence judging by Herzog’s oeuvre that is often as fascinated by landscapes as it is by the humans that inhabit them. To this day he holds the singular achievement of having shot a film on every continent. However, after an initial sequence where we see only tiny glimpses of the scenes of devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the film lapses into a bafflingly mundane narrative the enjoyment of which entirely depends on the audience revelling in Cage’s reckless smack, crack and painkiller addled misdemeanours in the same way some audiences revered Jonny Depp’s portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. In actuality it’s a hammy performance where the central comic conceit is he’s a drug addict. It’s like watching Werner Herzog directing Towlie from South Park. You pray for an intervention just in case it might accidentally result in a story.
Ultimately, whether you’re a fan of Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant, Werner Herzog or Nic Cage you’ll leave the cinema disappointed, perhaps even irritated by the sheer lethargy of what has been proffered on screen. One feels Herzog made this film in order to fund other projects he actually cares about (Herzog is currently shooting his first 3D movie having being granted privileged access to the Chauvet caves in France where supposedly no tourist will ever tread due to the extreme fragility of the site – a far more promising cinematic prospect). Whatever his intentions he has certainly outraged Ferrara who has publically expressed, in no uncertain terms, that a violent undignified death (literally) is all the makers of this film deserve. Ferrara should perhaps be reminded that his own film was a vacuous trudge through an equally boring narrative that supposedly dealt with issues of identity but which ultimately boiled down to watching Harvey Keitel pleasuring himself through a window like some miscreant chimp at a zoo. He’s right about one thing though; Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call – New Orleans is a badly considered and poorly deployed work that is even more disappointing considering it is directed by one of the all time great filmmakers who simply should know better.