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Originally published Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Movie review

'Bad Lieutenant': An outrageous, funny rogue-cop tale set in New Orleans

"The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," Werner Herzog's police thriller, is almost a comedy, with Nicolas Cage delivering one of his out-there performances as a Louisiana rogue cop.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,' with Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Brad Dourif. Directed by Werner Herzog, from a screenplay by William Finkelstein. 122 minutes. Rated R for profanity, violence, drug use. Seven Gables, Uptown.

Hurricane Katrina has inspired several documentaries, but few dramas have been directly linked to the disaster that wrecked New Orleans.

Filmed entirely in Louisiana during the summer of 2008, Werner Herzog's "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" deals in a fictional manner with survivors whose lives are driven by lawlessness. But it isn't precisely what you'd call a dramatic film.

While it starts out with a series of intense scenes involving an investigation into a massacre, the tone becomes increasingly goofy. Herzog encourages the supporting cast, especially Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon and Fairuza Balk, to behave as if they'd landed in one of those unrestrained jungle adventures ("Aguirre, Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo") that demonstrated Herzog's gift for dealing with madness.

In the starring role, Nicolas Cage gives one of his more outrageous performances, as a rogue cop who is both heroic and hypocritical. His interrogation techniques include sharing a joint with a suspect, then using a mouth-to-mouth method for the harder stuff. Addicted to painkillers because of an injury, he's just as likely to use drugs to seduce his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes).

Like the late Klaus Kinski, who so often played crazies in Herzog's earlier movies, Cage is in your face all the way. Laughing maniacally, lying with no sign of a conscience, he pushes the character's frequent tantrums beyond over-the-top.

Especially toward the end, the movie begins to suggest a Cheech and Chong variation on a standard police thriller, complete with a fairy-tale ending (or two or three), suggesting Herzog signed on in order to poke fun at the genre.

What else is one to make of a showy slow-motion showdown with the bad guys — or the final-credit roll, which includes the information that Herzog himself supplied the "iguana-alligator footage." Or Cage's bald declaration that "a man without a gun is not a man."

Herzog's movie may sound like an R-rated rehash of Abel Ferrara's NC-17-rated "Bad Lieutenant" (1992), but it's a very different animal. Indeed, it's almost a comedy, and sometimes a very funny one.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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