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Friday, September 18, 2009

Toronto: Nicolas Cage's hilarious performance fuels 'Bad Lieutenant'


I'm not sure who is going to acquire Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," but lord I hope someone does. Surprisingly funny and immensely entertaining, "Bad Lieutenant" is markedly different than it's 1992 predecessor (which is best known for star Harvey Keitel's full frontal nude scene), but beyond the new locale, the film really sets itself apart by Nicolas Cage's fantastic performance.

Set in a post-Katrina New Orleans, "Bad Lieutenant" follows a few days in the life of a Terence McDonagh (Cage) , a career officer in the city police force who suffers from chronic back pain that he can only tolerate by over indulging on prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin and, um, you name it. Things start to go wrong for McDonagh when he's asked to investigate the cold-blooded murder of five Sengalese immigrants. At the same time, a series of events conspire to bring McDonagh's world into a spiral including his hooker girlfriend (Eva Mendes in her element) being blackmailed by a mob thug, his bookie coming after him for $10,000 and a dangerous arrangement with the drug dealing murder suspect Big Fate (a surprising Xzibit). "Bad" man indeed. As the chips fall into place, however, it's McDonagh's crazy luck and smarts portrayed in a smart, relaxed and almost lighthearted style by Cage that makes the storyline work. And even though the tension dissipates as the outlandish events increase throughout the story, the audience still finds itself rooting for McDonagh, a man so screwed up he'll pull over a couple on false charges and then screw a man's girlfriend just to get his desperate cocaine hit. That's not an easy accomplishment for any director, but Herzog really pulls it off.

Val Kilmer, Michael Shannon and Shawn Hatosy are all solid as colleagues in the forece and Fariuza Balk is incredibly sexy in a brief cameo, but it's Cage who is the real star here. This writer tried to recall the last time the Oscar-winner came across as sympathetic, unintentionally endearing and someone you really root for. "Face/Off"? "The Rock"? Shoot, even his work in "Leaving Las Vegas" wasn't easy to watch. In any event, it's been quite a long time. And just as long since Cage has looked like he's been having such a blast on screen. If "Lieutenant" could find distribution soon to make a 2009 release, Cage would stand an excellent shot at another Oscar nomination. No matter what the outcome in that respect, his performance should grab the attention of many filmmakers and producers who may have shied away from him for edgier roles because of his recent run of flicks like "National Treasure," "Knowing" and insert lame thriller here.

"Lieutenant's" thematic point-of-view may not be for everyone, but judging by the audience reaction at the press screening this afternoon it could become a favorite of many.

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