Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
My main dudes John Cusack and Robert De Niro have been nothing if not prolific lately.  For the last two years this pair have been putting out product at such an amazing rate that I'm beginning to fear that one or the both of might be deathly ill and are simply trying pile up the dough so their families will be okay.  You see, both of these guys used to be somewhat discriminating in where they applied their craft.  Not so much anymore.  In fact, I don't think either of them really give much of a flying f**k anymore.  But I'm not mad at them, because I've been a Cusack guy since 'Better off Dead' and I was born a De Niro guy so I'm gonna watch whatever they put out.  Like this movie here, 'The Bag Man' which actually wasn't so bad until it just kind of lost its way.

Mr. Dragna (De Niro) is some kind of super criminal who needs his guy Jack (Cusack) to do a very simple thing.  Retrieve a bag and hold it for him until he comes to get it.  For this simple task Jack will get an exorbitant amount of money with the only preclusion of this task being that he NOT LOOK IN THE BAG.  Very simple.

Next time we see Jack he's on a pay phone laying into Mr. Dragna as he's been shot and has a dead body in his trunk.  But he has the bag and he has not looked in the bag.  The next step of this task is to go to an out of the way motel and rent Room 13… not 12… not 14….but 13 and wait for Dragna to show up and get his bag.  Again, it couldn't get much simpler, right?

The problems start for Jack, in room 13, when homeboy knocks on the door and asks for a cork screw.  Actually the problems started when he rented the room from the Clerk with that Clerk being played by Crispin Glover.  That can never be a good sign.  Then there's the one-eyed pimp floating around, the dwarf in the tracksuit, psycho cops and of course the six foot prostitute in the electric blue wig calling herself Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa).  How do I know she's six feet tall?  Because they kept telling me over and over again how tall she was.  As a matter of fact I had to look up the character's name since most everybody in the movie referred to her as the six foot whore. 
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Despite all these distractions, we do have to hand it to Jack as he is almost manic in finishing this job, to the point that he will kill almost everybody in this movie just to keep this bag safe.  While never looking in the bag.  To what end… we don't know.  Maybe that's one of the issues I had with 'The Bag Man'.

Directed and co-written by David Grovic, 'The Bag Man' is… I don't know… an odd movie.  It's not a good movie, even though it has elements in it which are very good.  John Cusack has been playing variations of this weary character since he was teenager so he has it down to almost a science.  Plus he has extensive experience playing characters trapped in questionable hotels since he had to this in both 'Identity' and '1408' and as such he was pretty good in this movie.  Grovic certainly had a quality cast to work with, in addition to De Niro and Cusack, he had a group of actors well within their comfort zones.  Kirk Jones playing a pimp, Martin Klebba showing up as a hyper aggressive dwarf, Dominic Purcell taking a brief turn as a stoic, passionless police sheriff and Rebecca Da Costa being tall, thin and good looking.  They were all fine.  The look was dark and gritty, so the elements for a good movie were there.

But this is a character driven thriller, considering the tight spaces and limited locations, but the main character was a little confusing.  Somebody asks for a corkscrew, they get shot in the head.  Somebody breaks into his apartment, messes with his precious bag, and seems to be lying to him about everything… this person doesn't get shot in the head, but instead kind of gets fallen in love with.  Plus it got somewhat repetitive watching Jack in the loop of messing with the prostitute, messing with external hotel vermin, hiding the bag, then doing it all over again. 

De Niro?  I will say he seemed a little more involved in this movie than some of the other throwaway roles he's taken lately.  That's something at least.  Though I gotta think that Robert De Niro 25 years ago would probably challenge a director more on certain things.  Say like, 'I don't know David… would my character really base his life philosophy on an episode of Full House?' or 'David, is there a reason you have me looking like Dustin Hoffman having a really bad day?', or 'David, is there any logical reason for my character to be doing anything that he's doing right now?'  This version of Robert De Niro clearly doesn't ask those questions anymore. 

The thing that really keeps 'The Bag Man' from being a good movie, if one were to ask me, is the end.  The final two scenes.  A scene where Jack breaks from his already shaky characterization and demands to know what's in the bag, followed by a wacky shootout, closing out with one of those 'wrap it up with a scene from the past explaining stuff' scenes.  It's that scene that really throws everything else we've seen, which hasn't been all that lucid in the first place, completely off kilter.  Now I'm asking 'what was the point of all of this'?  I hate asking that.

I didn't hate the movie though.  'The Bag Man' was an odd mix of incongruent elements and strange events which ultimately added up to very little or nothing… but it still had enough in it to keep me entertained for the most part.
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