Robert De Niro is a ruthless gangster; John Cusack is experiencing motel hell; a hot hooker with a heart of gold is on the run; a satchel bag with mysterious contents. Haven’t we seen all this before? The Bag Man desperately borrows from dozens of other dark and gritty crime-thriller films, but, unfortunately, it is more ‘bore’ than noir.
First, let’s talk De Niro, the legendary actor best known for playing the lead in Martin Scorsese’s mobster flicks. He’s played this role so many times in so many films that he’s become a cartoon caricature of the part, and in The Bag Man he’s even made up to look like Martin Scorsese.
It’s sad because thirty years ago the De Niro name attached to a film meant you’d be watching a high quality performance; now it most often means you’ll be watching the actor sleepwalk as the stereotype he helped to create – and such is the case with his character, Dragna, in The Bag Man.
As the film begins you quickly learn that you are in for a hackneyed ride as Dragna uses his meat and potatoes dinner to symbolically give instructions to the bag man, Jack (John Cusack). It’s an awkward scene that sets the bumbling and unintentional comedic tone for the rest of the film.
The next time we see Jack he has the titular bag (which he has been warned by Dragna not to look into) and he has been shot in his hand during its pick-up (which has taken place off-screen, a la Reservoir Dogs.) He’s directed to hole-up in a seedy motel that is populated with typically quirky characters like an overly curious desk clerk, played by Crispin Glover (of George McFly fame.) The motel itself looks like it’s the same set used for Bates Motel, or the other (much better) Cusack film, Identity.
Jack soon hooks up with Rivka (or Cat), played by the beautiful Brazilian actress, Rebecca Da Costa. She’s a hooker, dressed in a “Wonder Woman” like outfit, who is on the outs with her pimp and hides away in Jack’s room, where he reluctantly protects her while waiting for Dragna to come get his darn bag.
I couldn’t help wondering how Da Costa might look playing the actual Wonder Woman in a film and I think she might have been a good choice (if Gal Gadot didn’t already have the part.) Nevertheless, the new actress does a decent job in this film, despite the movie’s overall hokiness, and I’m looking forward to seeing her again in a better film.
Jack and Cat tussle with the pimps, the local corrupt cops, Dragna’s goons and the goofy motel clerk; all while trying to guard the bag and its unknown contents. It’s a long night until the climatic confrontation with Dragna himself, where, in the midst of a dark and rainy gunfight, he’s spouting ridiculous taunts like, “You should have read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.” (A line that is well-known for aggravating one’s opponent.)
The Bag Man is written and directed by newcomer, David Grovic, and is based on a screenplay called “Motel” by James Russo. The acting talent involved does as good as they can with the weak material they are provided here, but at this point in their careers De Niro and Cusack should have been able to tell this was a turkey from a mile away. On a positive note, Crispin Glover is always fun to watch and his small role is the most interesting in the film.
Grovic may have been trying to do something with a “curiosity killing the ‘Cat’” theme here, or I may be giving him too much credit. Regardless, the movie ends as ludicrously as it begins, and its stereotypical surprises are mostly just silly. If you are a fan of this genre, then you’ve seen this all before, usually delivered in a much better manner than this debacle. Grade: 3/10
Photos © 2014 Cinedigm
‘The Bag Man’ opens March 7, 2014 – exclusively at AMC Ahwatukee 24.