The Bag Man
Directed by David Grovic
Starring John Cusack, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover and Rebecca Da Costa
Cusack, De Niro star in crime stinker
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
The Bag Man is propelled forward on the strength of one lingering question: What’s in that damn bag? Spoiler alert — nothing.
Not literally nothing. Something’s in there, but by the time the movie ends you’ll wish it contained stacks of cash, "nogotiable bearer bonds" or Walter Sobchak’s dirty undies, just not what was in there. Making matters worse, the contents of the bag have absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens in The Bag Man; if anything, the bag’s contents relate more to some never-to-be-made prequel that hints at the bag’s origins, implications and all the other tedium that can fit into a leather carry-on.
The movie stars John Cusack as an unnamed mafia go-to guy, who has the bag from almost the very beginning. In the first scene, he’s given instructions about the bag by crime underlord Dragna (Robert De Niro). Dragna, spitting and sputtering over dinner, illustrates the importance of the bag using his steak and potatoes. “This is you. This is the bag. This is me,” he says partitioning off his meal, “so get me the bag.” This scene made me realize that I would have preferred the entirety of The Bag Man to be performed by actual steak and potatoes over Cusack and De Niro.
Anyway, cut to the very next scene and Cusack’s Bag Man has the bag. Poof, like that. There’s also a dead man in the backseat, a bullet through his hand and a phone booth clearly rented from some third-rate Hollywood prop vendor — when was the last time you saw a payphone, let alone a full-on glass-walled phone booth? Bag Man is given specific instructions to go to a hotel and wait until Dragna can board a plane, fly to Bag Man’s location and retrieve the bag. Here’s a thought, Dragna: maybe don’t leave the state when someone is retrieving your goods.
This is an idiotic movie, one that seems to have been inspired by better films, ones made by much better directors. It has Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue, Guy Ritchie’s criminal oddballs and Michael Mann’s unnerving obsession with the night. But director David Grovic, who also co-wrote the screenplay, can’t turn any this hackneyed drivel into anything other than crumpled love letter to better movies.
It’s a shame because the movie had a brief window about a third of the way through that had potential. As Bag Man arrives at the hotel, he slowly spirals into a dream-like world of wacky characters, each more surreal than the one before them. For starters, the hotel is stuck in some kind of time warp, with a wheelchair-riding Crispin Glover serving as its de-facto Norman Bates. Other characters include two good ol’ boy cops, some trigger-happy federal agents and two pimps, one them a little person with a bladder that he empties on Bag Man’s head. I also liked how every guy Bag Man killed had an 8-by-10 glossy picture of the bag on them, revealing a wider bag conspiracy. All of this nuttiness threatens to spin the film into a unique, albeit odd, place, but then it settles on being a by-the-numbers crime thriller, and a dopey one at that.
Most of Bag Man is just downright cruel, especially to women. In an early scene, Dragna wallops a woman in the nose so hard she requires plastic surgery. Dragna, ever the gentleman, gives her a referral to a surgeon. In another scene, someone says flatly and with no irony whatsoever, "All women are whores." He was talking about women in general, and also prostitute Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), a Fifth Element extra with blue hair, red leather miniskirt and theeck Russian accent. Not much on Da Costa looks real, which gives Grovic plenty of excuses to longingly slobber over her curvy frame.
This is not a good movie, nor is it even a commendable bad one. It just hurtles forward with its joyless action and grinding momentum. And that bag, its contents do not make anything better. If you must know what's in it, give it a week or two and the synopsis will be up on Wikipedia — spoil away.