December 18, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call -- New Orleans' -- GRADE: B

Review: 'Bad Lieutenant' is good

Nicolas Cage plays a substance-abusing police detective and Eva Mendes plays his prostitute girlfriend in this wickedly dark comedy. (Millennium Films)

Nicolas Cage is out of his mind in "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call -- New Orleans." And it's wonderful to see.

Working with quirk thrusters set on full, Cage almost makes you forget all the oatmeal-dumb, quasi-thrillers he's done in recent years. "Bad Lieutenant" brings back the Cage of "Raising Arizona," "Leaving Las Vegas," "Adaptation," even "World Trade Center," an actor with purpose and fire in his belly.

It helps, of course, that his character really is out of his mind. Cage plays Detective Terence McDonagh, a cop covering up the pain from a back injury with copious amounts of substance abuse while investigating the bloody murder of a Senegalese family in post-Katrina New Orleans.

McDonagh has a prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), an alcoholic father (Tom Bower) with a near-equally alcoholic wife (Jennifer Coolidge), and a nasty tendency to hallucinate iguanas in tense situations. His gambling debts are mounting, he uses his badge in all the wrong places, and he seems to be forming a bond with murderous drug dealers.

Cage was born to this, and director Werner Herzog lets him run wild. The result is a jittery, outrageous black comedy-thriller that (thankfully) bears no resemblance to the overcooked 1992 film "Bad Lieutenant," which starred Harvey Keitel.

This lieutenant isn't seriously bad at all; he's just kind of fried to the eyeballs, a situation Cage plays up by consistently popping his out as far as they can go, usually while barely controlling a Joker-like giggle spasm. There are a lot of times when the audience just has to laugh along with him.

"Port of Call" is a dizzy, demented delight, and a must-see for fans who've been wondering whatever happened to Nicolas Cage. He's still got the electricity; he's just got to find better switches.

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Eva Mendes in "Bad Lieutenant." (Millennium Films)