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 YOURE 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. Its a movie thats 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. Cusacks 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.
Cusacks pretty hit n miss these days. Whether or not youre 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 hes never really bad. He does his job, but doesnt seem overly inspired. For most of the film, hes stuck with Rebecca Da Costa, playing the type of hooker you only see in the movies. A six-foot beauty whos 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 hes 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 hes trying to be Nick Fury, De Niro looks like hes 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 thats original about THE BAG MAN is that itll likely be the only time youll 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 whats actually in Cusacks bag (hes not supposed to look), which should seem familiar to anyone who remembers Marcellus Wallaces case from PULP FICTION. The fact that you really wont care whats in there by the time the conclusion rolls around is probably the movies biggest failing. While the names De Niro and Cusack will probably mean some wont 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.