The James Clayton Column: How to be a Good Cop with Bad Lieutenant

James checks out Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of New Orleans. He adjusts his travel plans accordingly...

Some days I walk the streets, look around and find myself quoting Private Gomer Pyle of Full Metal Jacket: “I am in a world of shit.” Unlike Pyle, I don’t then shove a rifle in my mouth and blast my brains all over the bathroom (he blows his head off in the head, see?). Normally, I just hide inside, stick on a film and wish I lived somewhere else, somewhere less bleak, cold and wet where the population aren’t so cynical and have an average IQ higher than 36.

Ever since I was a little gremlin (before I fell into a puddle and turned into something horrible) movies have made me want to travel. I watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark and wanted to journey to exotic Egypt. I saw The Last Samurai and longed to leave for traditional rural Japan. I watched Return Of The Jedi and decided that I’d emigrate to the forest moon of Endor and open a 5-star noodle bar called Wok Ewok.

That’s the teleportative power of the motion picture medium for you. You can forget your imminent surroundings for a few hours and go to a land far away without risking jet lag and deep vein thrombosis.

Maybe it’s testament to how depressing Britain is or how wonderful the envisioned worlds of the screen are, but most times I watch a movie I think, “Yeah, I want to go there.”

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Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call: New Orleans is not one of those films. The tourist board of the Mardi Gras city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 should probably sue Werner Herzog.

Having taken a trip with a drugged-up Nicolas Cage around ‘The Big Easy’ in the German auteur’s latest feature, I’ve come to realise that living in Bolton (the armpit of the British Empire) isn’t actually so bad. Compared with the ravaged Louisiana city awash with drugs, hookers, bent cops and bad drainage, my immediate environment looks like one of the more picturesque parts of Middle Earth (though there’s no getting rid of these Orcs).

Nevertheless, Bad Lieutenant wasn’t a total letdown on the life-altering-crossroad-epiphany moments front. I came away with the realisation that I could make it as a policeman. I never thought I had what it takes to be real po-lice like Dirty Harry or the guys in The Wire. They make crime fighting look like a complex science or a talent written into your genes at conception.

Having absorbed Herzog’s feature length manual in ‘How To Be A Policeman in a Chaotic World’, however (with demonstrations kindly provided by Nicolas Cage) I’m now convinced that a career in law enforcement is possible.

I’ve always harboured fantasies of becoming a maverick supercop who always gets his man/woman/renegade android, cleaning the streets of criminal scum while looking perpetually superfly as I jive to the funky theme tune. Yeah, brother, in my crime fighting daydreams I’m a white version of Shaft with the martial arts ability of Jackie Chan in Police Story, a porn star moustache and a .44 Magnum.

This is all far-fetched wishful thinking, though. I’m not strong enough to handle a Magnum, I’ll never be as agile as Jackie Chan and last time I grew a porn star ‘tache and went out in public I ended up getting tasered and incarcerated in a zoo for two weeks.

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Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that I could make a decent fist of being a more mundane cop after watching Bad Lieutenant. I don’t have Dirty Harry firepower, kung fu acrobatics or facial hair that all the bad mothers dig, but the essential knowledge and insight are all there thanks to Herzog and Cage.

Studying how Cage’s Lt. Terrence McDonagh chases homicide cases despite crippling back injury, drug addiction and a whole spate of other personal difficulties in dilapidated New Orleans, I reckon I’m ready for duty.

I only really learned how to be a total shambles of a human from Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, and Harvey Keitel’s eponymous law man is no kind of role model. In contrast, Port Of Call: New Orleans is ‘Effective Real Po-Lice Work for Dummies’ and any attentive disciple of McDonagh can thrive in the police force, get promotions, get criminals and get sex, drugs and iguana-tinged hallucinations as a bonus.

Bear in mind the following points from the McDonagh Method (soon to be made available as an Open University course) and you will make it as a good bad cop…

Abuse Your Power

If you’ve got a badge, use it and use it often. It’s your passport to absolute power over mere mortals and enables you to stop, search, blackmail, sexually proposition and confiscate drugs from anybody at will. With a flash of metal and an “I’m a cop” justification, you’re free to raid a pharmacy, beat up old ladies and just be an utter bastard. You are the law, Judge Dredd. Real po-lice take their authority and run with it.

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Take Advantage of the Police Station Stockroom

Impounded cocaine takes up too much shelf space and creates masses of paperwork. A sleep-deprived cop needs less bureaucracy and more buzzing energy, so take a cut of the yeyo brought in after every drugs bust to stimulate your senses and get your mojo working. Real po-lice use the resources.

Don’t Listen to Val Kilmer

When Kilmer’s character Stevie plays tough cop in the interrogation room, McDonagh comes over all compassionate and affable. Later, when Stevie wants to shoot a criminal, McDonagh says no. I detect a pattern here. Real po-lice ask, “What would Val Kilmer do?” and then do the opposite.

Get a Lucky Crack Pipe

The secret of McDonagh’s success is the auspicious stoner artefact he keeps on his person. With a lucky crack pipe you make the statement: “I’m no humble street junkie. I’m a sophisticated coke addict with the gods on my side.” Blow on it six times and the solutions to unsolved crimes will be delivered to you by a break dancing phantom. Real po-lice have fortune-bringing drug paraphernalia.

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I can’t afford a cruiser ticket to Endor, so for now I’m condemned to a sad place. The best I can do is secure a position of authority and manipulate the system to my own ends.

The way to get the power, repeated promotions and all the other benefits without fear of reprisal is by becoming a cop. Do it the right way – the Terrence McDonagh of Bad Lieutenant way – and you’ll rule the swamp.

James’ previous column can be found here.