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'Bad Lietenant — Port of Call: New Orleans'

Werner Herzog's bold choices make for cop flick like you've never before seen

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Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 12:00 am

And the good times just keep on rollin'.

As I was saying last week, we've seen some pretty great films in wide release over the past few months (with many more in limited release, some of which I still need to catch up on), and the rest of the end-of-year roster is looking reasonably strong, with "Invictus," "Avatar" (still very suspect), "It's Complicated," "Nine" and "Sherlock Holmes" all debuting in the next couple of weeks.

As this week's pick shows, though, one should not confine oneself exclusively to the multiplex, because there's some fascinating stuff languishing in limited release, just waiting to be appreciated by the adventurous moviegoer.

Case in point: "The Bad Lieutenant — Port of Call: New Orleans," an exceedingly strange offering from the eccentric German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

It's a doozey, to be sure, and is guaranteed to divide viewers right down the middle, with half proclaiming it as some kind of great surrealist achievement and the other, more bewildered half saying they just don't like this kind of thing, thank you very much.

Nuts to them, because this "Bad Lieutenant" (not to be confused with Abel Ferrara's great, brutal 1992 film with Harvey Keitel — the two have no literal connection whatsoever) is quite a mind-blower: immediately engaging, continuously provocative, occasionally shocking, and funny enough to qualify as one of the best comedies of the year. That is, if you're into this sort of thing.

Confession: Prior to this film, I had never seen a Werner Herzog movie.

I realize that dirty little secret throws into question my station as a film geek, but with so many other competing filmmakers demanding my increasingly valuable time, I've simply never gotten around to viewing any of his many noted works, from his early man vs. nature epics "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo" to his more recent documentaries "Grizzly Man" and "Encounters at the End of the World."

"The Bad Lieutenant — Port of Call: New Orleans"

**** (out of four)
2009, Werner Herzog, U.S., R

And, upon seeing "The Bad Lieutenant — Port of Call: New Orleans," only now do I realize the mistake I've made.

I've been an admirer of Herzog's for many years, as I'm familiar with his off-set antics (his random, completely inexplicable rescue of Joaquin Phoenix following a motorcycle crash in the middle of nowhere; his on-camera eating on a boiled shoe after losing a bet; his blasé, in-the-moment reaction to actually being shot at — again, on camera), but I never realized how completely his unique brand of insanity could be transferred to the screen.

With "Bad Lieutenant," he has taken what could have been a confused, cliché portrait of police corruption and turned it completely upside-down.

This is one topsy-turvy flick, totally different in tone than any other cop movie you've ever seen. And it's largely thanks to some of Herzog's bolder choices as a filmmaker — including the ingenious casting of the washed-up Nicolas Cage as the crooked cop of the title.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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