Review: The Bag Man
REVIEW: Remember how – after the one-two punch of RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION – cinemas in the mid-nineties were filled with Tarantino clones? So many indie directors hoped to get their share of his fame, and while some of these films were OK (THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD), most were awful (FEELING MINNESOTA, TOUCH, DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO). THE BAG MAN – which is actually a hasty renaming as it was called MOTEL all throughout its production (which is also the title on the screener link I was sent by the production company) – feels like it belongs with the worst of the clones. It’s a movie that’s about fifteen years too late, but even then would have been seen as a bottom-of-the-barrel crime programmer.
The brainchild of director David Grovic, who also co-wrote the screenplay, THE BAG MAN somehow managed to attract a solid cast, with John Cusack in the lead. Cusack’s done this kind of part before, with his character here being more than a little reminiscent of his hit man anti-hero from GROSS POINTE BLANK, and its spiritual (if unofficial sequel) WAR INC. He even dresses like Blank (or maybe just Cusack himself) with a tough-guy black blazer off-set by a nice-guy baseball cap. THE BAG MAN also finds Cusack once again trapped in a creepy hotel/motel, similar to 1408 and IDENTITY.
Cusack’s pretty hit n’ miss these days. Whether or not you’re getting him at the top of his game really depends on the material, with him nailing a movie like THE FROZEN GROUND, but just as often sleepwalking through something like THE RAVEN or THE FACTORY. This is Cusack at a relatively low-ebb, although he’s never really bad. He does his job, but doesn’t seem overly inspired. For most of the film, he’s stuck with Rebecca Da Costa, playing the type of hooker you only see in the movies. A six-foot beauty who’s introduced wearing a Wonder Woman costume, Da Costa looks like she should be walking the catwalks of Milan, rather than be holed up in a seedy motel with Sticky Fingaz as her pimp (with his shaved head, eye-patch and choice of leather he looks like he’s on his way to a Halloween party dressed as Nick Fury).
Robert De Niro plays the baddie, a crime boss named Dragna, complete with an outrageous pompadour haircut, and lots of gold. If Fingaz looks like he’s trying to be Nick Fury, De Niro looks like he’s going for Liberace. Grovic tries to have fun with De Niro by giving him lots of Tarantino-inspired hipster dialogue, mixing high-brow references (Hermann Hesse) with the low-brow. Perhaps the only thing one could possibly say that’s original about THE BAG MAN is that it’ll likely be the only time you’ll ever see Robert De Niro talk about FULL HOUSE (although given his choices these days, maybe not). The only person here who really seems to be playing to all his strengths is Crispin Glover as the wheelchair bound, mullet-wearing concierge. Too bad he has such a small part.
Watching THE BAG MAN should make audiences thankful that the Tarantino-clone indie days are mostly gone (although movies like this and CATCH.44 seem bent on bringing them back). The copying here is pretty blatant, with Grovic spending lots of time making us wonder what’s actually in Cusack’s bag (he’s not supposed to look), which should seem familiar to anyone who remembers Marcellus Wallace’s case from PULP FICTION. The fact that you really won’t care what’s in there by the time the conclusion rolls around is probably the movie’s biggest failing. While the names De Niro and Cusack will probably mean some won’t be able to resist checking this out on VOD, this is probably one of the worst films either man has appeared in for a while, which is saying something.