Title: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: November 17th, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Nicolas Cage had to face wide lampooning in recent years due to his tendency to overact his film roles, resulting in unexpected laughs that overshadow the drama. For The Bad Lieutenant, Cage appears to have been encouraged to bring his over-the-top shtick to new heights.
Here he plays rugged New Orleans policeman Terrence McDonagh in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He's an unapologetic loudmouth with a sick sense of humor, but can be counted on to get jobs done. He acquires the rank of Lieutenant after saving the life of a prisoner but consequently suffers a serious back injury.
Terrence is prescribed Vicodin as a way to cope with his new pain. The drugs have become addictive and his new obsession seems to have set off a time bomb inside of him. Terrence now places his desire for drugs first in his life and performing his policeman duties second.
Meanwhile, a new murder case has become the police department's center of attention. Terrence, now a loose cannon, is assigned to the investigation of discovering who was responsible for the slaying of five immigrants residing in the area. It is at this point where his fellow comrades begin to question Terrence's ability to stay focused on the job. The line between duty and personal desire is blurred and nobody knows what to make of this Lieutenant, especially the witnesses that have to answer to him.
As I explained before, Cage cranks his "insanity" lever into maximum power here. One minute he's patrolling the neighborhood in a perfectly conspicuous manner. The next minute, he's screaming his lungs out and threatening anyone that stands in the way of what he wants. Usually, the thing he wants is cocaine. Terrence probably takes more cocaine hits in this movie than all of the after school specials from the 1970s combined.
Sometimes, we get to see events from Terrence's distorted view of the world. For a non-comedy, this movie has a lot of running jokes. Probably the most memorable one is Terrence's recurring hallucinations of iguanas and other exotic wildlife. Another is his slow descent into total madness. At one point, his speech degrades into sounding like Jimmy Stewart with a mouth full of water.
I don't know how close to reality the often-seen "Good cop, Bad cop" routine is to real police work. If it's used at all, Nicolas Cage would be one of the most convincing bad cops to ever walk the Earth. His slick way of presenting himself as a lost pathetic soul only to transform into a monster is a work of genius. Proudly serving the city of New Orleans or exhibiting pure sadism seems interchangeable. Forget Harvey Two-Face. Terrence McDonagh has five faces. And any one of them could show up at any moment.
Yet in spite of the praise I'm lending out, I found myself not caring at all about what I was watching. Whatever this movie was trying to prove was lost on me. Was Cage trying to impress people with his sense of dramatic timing and unpredictable behavior? He may have, but it wasn't any surprise to me. I had seen Cage act crazy in the movies plenty of times and needed no convincing that he still had the touch.
Was the story trying to expose how policemen can abuse their power and its impact on the vulnerable oblivious people of broken down America? I think enough citizens are already well aware of actions that betray the public trust. Was Hurricane Katrina supposed to be a metaphor for Terrence's broken body in need of healing? If so, it wasn't a very clever one.
Perhaps it was a simple character study. Never mind the plot. Just watch this guy at work and enjoy the dark beauty behind it. That seems to be the most likely scenario. But then why do I still not understand Terrence McDonagh? I only felt like I was watching Nicolas Cage acting this entire time. It wasn't his fault. It was the fault of a pretentious movie trying to be something that it's not. It tried to amuse audiences by acting fearless and prying for laughs toward a serious tale. It doesn't work because fearlessness alone doesn't make the movie. A coherent direction is all that's needed and this movie doesn't have one. Or maybe it does and I just missed it. Either way, I don't care enough to find out.