Sex & The City – Port of Call: New Orleans

5 06 2010

In the last week, I’ve been to see two films at the cinema. The first was the rather cumbersomely-titled The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans; the second, the less confusingly-named Sex and the City 2.

At first glance it might seem that these two Hollywood movies have very little in common. One is a story of crime and addiction set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the other a tale of ladies who lunch, buy shoes and have romantic adventures in New York and Abu Dhabi .

Look beyond the obvious differences between the two however, and it soon becomes clear that they have a surprising amount in common. For a start, they’re both sequels, of a sort. Bad Lieutenant is a re-imagining of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 study of Catholic guilt and redemption, and Sex and the City 2 an extension of the TV and movie franchise that has brought such joy to womankind (and such bum-numbing misery to their menfolk) over the last ten years.

In the first film, horse-faced Elvis impersonator Nicolas Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a cop with a bad back, a prostitute girlfriend and a serious crack habit who ends up taking a giddy walk along the thin blue line that separates ‘maverick’ policework from out-and-out criminality. In the second, the no-less-equine Sarah Jessica Parker plays Carrie Bradshaw, a celebrated New York authoress with important problems of her own. While Terence fraternises with criminals and roughs up suspects for coke, Carrie worries that the spark is going out of her marriage to ageing hunk ‘Mr. Big’.

Terence responds to his ever-spiralling gambling debts and personal problems by going on a drug-fuelled odyssey around the wrecked city, pinning all his hopes for redemption on the resolution of a brutal murder case. Carrie responds to ‘Mr. Big’’s sofa-loving, TV-watching ways by going on a freebie holiday to Abu Dhabi with her bestest friends Samantha, Charlotte and the Ginger One, before finally finding redemption in the thought that, hey, her marriage isn’t so bad after all.     

 

Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker

OMG! It's SJP! 'Sex & The City 2'

 

Both films have a healthy disregard for real-world problems, and both frequently teeter on the edge of unreality. In some of its most compelling scenes, for example, Bad Lieutenant shows us the world from the perspective of iguanas and crocodiles. Dead men’s souls dance to hillbilly tunes and bookies call into the police station to harass the debt-ridden lieutenant with seeming impunity.

In large part these scenes show Bavarian director Werner Herzog putting his stamp on the film and livening up what, in many senses, is a very conventional script. Cage contributes to this too, with a cackling, often comic performance that he claims to have modelled in part on Richard III. In fact for much of Bad Lieutenant‘s running time it feels as if Herzog and Cage have been let loose on the set of CSI Miami, or some similarly formulaic police procedural drama, without any of the other cast or crew members quite being in on what they were doing. (This isn’t a criticism by the way: the film’s dual personality works rather well.) 

The air of unreality that surrounds Sex and the City 2 is less studied, certainly, but no less fantastical. Faced with a global financial meltdown, a warming planet and the rise of China, the girls continue to do what they’ve always done best – buying shoes, going to elaborate wedding ceremonies and drinking cocktails.   

 
 

Nicolas Cage, The Bad Lieutenant

'Bad Lieutenant'

 

In the first film, shot before the 2008 crash, this naïve and self-centred behaviour seemed at least to reflect the mood of the Noughties boom. In 2010 though, SATC‘s Über-consumerist message seems almost masochistically out-of-tune with the times and (surely?) with the film’s core audience too. This is a world in which nothing is worse than travelling ‘coach class’ on a aeroplane, in which American cultural values are unquestionably superior, and in which audiences are supposed to sit gasping for five minutes while the heroines take a tour of a supposedly ‘luxury’ Abu Dhabi hotel.

OK, OK, so it’s escapism, I know. But the problem with Sex and the City as a movie concept is that once you get past this basic layer of escapism – the shopping, the exotic locations etc. – you’ve still got to do something with the characters to fill the remaining 90 or 100 minutes of screen-time. And it’s this that writer and director Michael Patrick King singularly fails to do. Any wit or charm that the TV show had seems to have been entirely abandoned for the big screen in favour of a series of pretty pictures. For example, the hotel scene that I’ve just mentioned is just that: four women being shown around a luxurious hotel, grinning and saying “how nice” every now and again. And that’s it! No insight, no character or plot development, nothing solid on which the poor viewer can hang her Versace handbag.

Bad Lieutenant, by contrast, has shambolic scenes and comic scenes and – it’s true – some very odd scenes too. But it’s always clear, as Cage’s character laughs uncontrollably at the name of a gangster (‘G’) or tells an old woman that people like her are ruining America, why we’re seeing what we’re seeing. Herzog and Cage are trying to tell us something about how liberating it can be to ignore social norms, and about how this particular character gains a certain amount of power and inner-strength by doing so. And they’re playing with our expectations of what a cop film is all about, and how the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys interact.

So, while the main character in Bad Lieutenant is a hallucinating drug addict, in many ways it’s Sex and The City 2 that seems the more abstract and ‘trippy’ of the two films. Indeed at times it’s so aimless and unsure of itself that it barely feels like cinema at all.

As always, Samantha’s motivations are pretty clear (sex), but the other characters often seem flat, and almost as baffled as we are to find themselves suddenly in the Arab world. In one particularly odd scene, Carrie asks an old man in a souk how much a pair of shoes costs. $20, he tells her. ‘Ah, so here we go’, I thought. ‘They’re in the Middle East – people haggle in the Middle East – this is the haggling scene!’ But no! Carrie hands over her $20 to the kindly store-owner and no further mention is made of the shoes or the price. Did the screenwriter not know that people in the Middle East haggle over pretty much everything? Or did most of the scene end up on the cutting room floor for some reason?

It’s a mystery to me. And on that mystery I’ll end. So go and see Bad Lieutenant, and laugh and enjoy yourselves. And if you’re really stuck for something to do, and you liked the TV series, then maybe go and see Sex and the City 2 as well. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you…

 

Nicolas Cage, Werner Herzog, Bad Lieutenant

Bad cop, erm... bad cop. 'Bad Lieutenant'

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4 responses

6 06 2010
paul Wiseman

I can’t believe you actually went to watch SATC2. Bad Lieutenant was hilarious though. As a former Cage-hater I was surprised how much I ‘warmed’ to his friendly, man-about-town cop character. His best performance by far.

6 06 2010
kieronclark

I don’t know, I think that Cage is pretty good in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and ‘Red Rock West’ and ‘Wild at Heart’ and ‘Con Air’ too, albeit in variants on the same Elvis-impersonating persona. And as for ‘Sex and the City 2’: (a) I have an excuse (my girlfriend) and (b) sometimes it’s quite instructive to go and see a truly bad film. I’m sure that in many ways I’ve learned more about cinema from watching ‘SATC 2’ and ‘Death Wish 3’ than I would from a dozen screenings of ‘Andrei Rublev’.

8 06 2010
rosieniven

I’d just like to put on the record that I was not bothered either way about seeing SATC2, but was persuaded to go and see it because someone wanted to write about it for their film blog. I’m Kieron’s girlfriend by the way!

18 11 2010
Fire Surround

Sarah Jessica Parker is really very very beautiful specially during her younger years :**

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