By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The dispiriting, noirish crime thriller The Bag Man is tall on crime and short on thrills.
John Cusack stars as Jack (we never get to know his last name and why should we?), a hired gun who is, as the film opens, summoned by a tough, pompadoured crime boss named Dragna, played by Robert De Niro, who offers him an exorbitant fee if he’ll simply pick up a bag, take it to a seedy motel in Louisiana, wait in room 13 for Dragna to arrive, then collect his moolah.
But -– and this is so important, Dragna repeats it a dozen times -– Jack is NOT TO LOOK IN THE BAG (an utterance that brings memories of Quentin Tarantino’s far, far superior Pulp Fiction to mind, the comparison not exactly helping The Bag Man’s cause.)
So Jack proceeds to the motel in question (and “Motel” just happens to have been the film’s original title), which is run by a wheelchair-bound clerk named Ned, played like the reincarnation of Psycho’s Norman Bates by oddball-squared Crispin Glover, who, even by his standards, is off-the-charts demented and strange.
There Jack waits and encounters a prostitute named Rivka, played by Brazilian model Rebecca Da Costa, whose skill set remains hidden, as is her ultimate allegiance.
Then, with the help of the motel’s other guests, a variety of underworld types and thuggish local cops who are all just over from the dark side, to say nothing of Jack’s considerable murderous abilities, the body count begins growing exponentially.
Director David Grovic co-wrote the arbitrary and pretentious, internal-logic-be-damned screenplay with Paul Conway. It’s based on a script by character actor James Russo, and sees character development as a foreign country that doesn’t admit visitors.
Which is why we stop caring -– not that we ever started — about Jack’s welfare or the contents of the bag or anything else but the exit sign and when we’ll be mercifully allowed to pass under it.
Dark and gritty and not deserving of pity, and lit like a bad restaurant that would prefer you not see very clearly the food being served, The Bag Man isn’t even within a stone’s throw of qualifying as a mixed bag. Instead, it traffics in brutal violence, and teeters on the edge of the intersection where sadistic meets misogynistic.
Cusack and De Niro make the film more watchable than it has any right to be. But any way you slice it, these two talented actors, both of whom have made their share of bad choices of projects down through the years, are essentially slumming.
So we’ll check into room 1 star out of 4 for the dreary mobster thriller, The Bag Man. There’s more than enough killing on display, but the main thing being killed is a couple of hours.