THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL -- NEW ORLEANS
What a whackadoodle movie. You don't realize it until halfway through, but it's actually a brilliant, inspired brand of crazy. Nicolas Cage is a good cop with a problem: his addiction to coke, heroin, Vicodin, crack, gambling, and...I don't know, weird shit? I don't want to ruin the surprise of the outrageous things he does to see justice done, and so I also suggest you forget what you saw in the trailer -- it does not, thank God, ruin most of the awesome stuff, but the whole thing should be seen with fresh eyes.
Throughout the film, we see what attracts the increasingly unhinged Cage to his vices, which is a welcome relief from the moralizing of "gritty" films not made by Werner Herzog. Because, really, if we don't find it fun and awesome until the consequences, how can we identify with the character? Cage is fantastic, supported by fine performances by XZibit, Jennifer Coolidge and Brad Dourif, but especially by a career-best turn from Eva Mendes as the Lieutenant's addict prostitute girlfriend. What a kick-ass film.
WORLD'S GREATEST DAD
It's fucked up, yet....heartwarming? Robin Williams reminds us why we loved him, playing a teacher and struggling author with an ungrateful, idiot son (Daryl Sabara) and a hot teacher girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore). An indictment against the fad of grieving, World's Greatest Dad has a scathingly funny script and great performances from Williams, Gilmore and Sabara. It does suffer, though, from a distractingly persistent soundtrack, an unfunny parody of an Oprah-esque talk show, and a subplot involving a neighbor who likes zombie movies and pot brownies. OK, full disclosure: I fell asleep for a portion of it, so I couldn't completely connect with the characters anyway. Worth the rental.
Great set-up, rushed climax. Tobey Maguire is mostly great as a soldier who goes MIA in Iraq, comes back home after being declared dead, then has to readjust to civilian life while shouldering a terrible burden. Jake Gyllenhaal is subtly good as his paroled brother who tries to do right by his sister-in-law in his brother's absence. Natalie Portman gives another great performance as the devoted wife, then widow who starts getting close to her brother-in-law, then wife who wants to get close to her increasingly unsettled husband.
The problem is, the whole sequence involving his return, from the time it happens up to the end, feels rushed and uneven. Maguire is doing a great job before dissolving into hysterics at the film's climax, though God help me he has got the most unsettling crazy eyes. The chemistry between Portman and both her co-stars is excellent, but the subplot with Gyllenhaal's character is dropped too quickly. Sam Shepard, as the father, only gets to bark out phrases like, "Why can't you be more like your brother?" and "Your brother's a real hero" ad nauseum. It's a real shame that the film never satisfyingly explores the relationship of these brothers, since...well...it's the title, isn't it?
It's a really good movie bolstered by great performances and hindered by what feels like an abandoned screenplay. Such a shame, since most of the film is fantastic.