My Buddy is a Cage – The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009)

I’ve written before that this weekly Cage-a-thon may produce some kind of numbing effect on my senses. Well, I think my nerves are working plenty fine. Lt. Terence McDonagh (Cage) isn’t the best at what he does. What he is best at is subverting the law at every expense. When he’s not lifting drugs from the station’s evidence locker, Terence gambles on college football or acts as a stand-in pimp for his prostitute ladyfriend, Frankie (Eva Mendes). Naturally, these less-than-savory qualities don’t bode well for New Orleans’ top detective, and McDonagh’s vices come to catch up to him in the midst of solving a drug-related homicide.
If Borat drew the ire of Kazakhstan, I’d be shocked if The Bad Lieutenant didn’t piss off a significant section of New Orleans. The city, as depicted here, is an awful place to live. All Werner Herzog shows us are grungy BBQ shacks, low-lit back alleys, and a number of crime scenes. Oh, and iguanas. Lots of them. As the synopsis alludes to, this film has a lot of drug use. And then some more, most of it involving McDonagh in some capacity. What the film attempts to show — and I can’t emphasize enough how uncertain I am about this — is a glimpse inside McDonagh’s drug-addled mind, so the resulting shifts between drama and borderline-comedy are as frequent as they are jarring. Hence the necessity of someone’s soul doing a post-mortem breakdance:  
In Face/Off there’s an obvious competition between Travolta and Cage as they out-impersonate each other. Here, most of Bad Lieutenant’s cast act like they’re trying to one-up Mr. Cage at chewing the set. Everyone is intoxicated or drugged up or so insane to such an extreme that the stakes become nonexistent. Of course, Cage remains king at spewing chunks of bat-shit psychosis at the camera. It isn’t clear where the boundary between actor and script was set during production. Of course that doesn’t stop Cage’s McDonagh from shoving his hand cannon into a pair of octogenarians’ faces or switching his own delivery into a nasally self-parody mid-way through. No, because in this realm, Cage wins. He always wins:
It’s remarkable that a film with a detective at its core does such a shoddy job of outlining danger. McDonagh makes so many ridiculously poor judgments that it’s sometimes impossible to separate his character traits from the plot. And maybe that’s the point. McDonagh has become so numbed from this bleak career choice that he ironically turns toward the forces he’s sworn to oppress. Except he’s the same character for the entire film. I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE, because amidst a story with ludicrous pock marks, the festering wart is the character of McDonagh himself. 

There’s a scene between McDonagh and Frankie where he presents her with a rusted spoon, presumably a gift as well as a reminder of her struggle with drug addiction. Again, I think. In this moment, the pair appreciate a quality in the spoon that a sober person wouldn’t understand without some context or backstory. All of Bad Lieutenant is like this, as characters clearly see something in Lt. McDonagh that I do not. Frankie sees a twisted version of a dependable love interest. Xzibit’s “Big Fate” and Det. Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) both envision him as a partner, whether that’s in shady drug dealing or in solving a homicide case. As the ending makes clear, the New Orleans Police Department sees McDonagh as an officer worthy of promotion. But I don’t see why. Someone pass me the blow.

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Want more Cage? You got it.


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