The Bag Man
The slow-but-inescapable erosion of John Cusack's movie career has been
steadily progressing for well over a decade now, but still it is
disheartening to see one of the most interesting actors of the 80s and 90s
mired in garbage like The Bag Man.
course Cusack isn't the only one slumming here. Once upon a time
Robert De Niro was arguably the finest actor in film. Now he's wearing
a Liberace hairstyle, punching women in the nose, trying to be genially
menacing and chewing scenery like no one's business as the mysterious
gangster who sets the action of The Bag Man in motion. However,
De Niro has been slumming in crap for so long now that his once sterling
reputation is in tatters. People now expect that anything De Niro does
will suck, and most of the time they are right.
However, Cusack still has a bit of the shine that he built up in some
classic films like Say Anything, The Sure Thing, Grosse Pointe Blank
and Bullets on Broadway. Unlike De Niro, who has become the
acting equivalent of a prostitute, Cusack still seems to put some thought
and imagination in his role choices. He may no longer be a huge box
office draw, but he does in general pick intelligent, offbeat movies to take
on. He'll even occasionally stumble into a minor hit like The
Butler, 1408, Hot
Tub Time Machine or 2012.
The Bag Man is an interesting choice for him – at least in theory,
even if the film does not end up working. Still, the hard-boiled
film noir vibe of the movie is an acting risk for Cusack, an actor who
is better known for comedies, but is also quite good in straight dramatic
roles. It's definitely a stretch for the actor, though The Bag Man
was somewhat reminiscent of The Ice Harvest, a better dark crime
drama Cusack took on about a decade ago (and one of the final films by
recently deceased director Harold Ramis.)
movie is a pretty simple McGuffin storyline pilfered from Pulp Fiction.
plays Jack, a hardened hit man whose wife was mysteriously murdered sometime
in the hazy past. (It mostly seems to be at least a few years back,
but a later plot point seems to suggest it was fairly recent.) He's
now a paranoid drunk, but still seems to be at the top of his field.
approached by Dragna (De Niro), a powerful and ruthless gangster with the
hair of a televangelist. (You can tell he's tough because he gleefully
breaks his secretary's nose. Then again, how tough is it to beat up a
woman? You never really see him go mano-a-mano with a man until
the end of the film.)
offers Jack a life-changing job which will offer him an exorbitant payday.
(To keep the vague sense of timelessness and confusion, no specific amount
is ever given, it is just referred to as a great amount.) All Jack has
to do to get the money is pick up a bag somewhere (they never say or show
where he gets it) and deliver it to a specific room in a rundown and nearly
empty motel in the middle of nowhere.
everyone is going after a mysterious bag where no one knows what is inside?
Yeah, haven't seen that storyline too many times since Pulp Fiction.
is suspicious and Dragna will stubbornly not give him any details.
Dragna's one proviso is that Jack absolutely cannot look inside the bag. Jack
needs the money and feels he has nothing to lose, so against his better
judgment he agrees to do the job.
the very beginning, things spiral out of control. Suddenly it seems
like the cops, the feds, gangsters, the suspicious hotel clerk and two pimps
with anger management problems are all extremely curious about what is going
on in room 13.
meantime, Rivka, a gorgeous Amazon woman with a blue wig and hooker clothes
(played by model Rebecca Da Costa) breaks into Jack's room and begs him to
protect her from the killer pimps. Jack refuses and tries to throw her
out, but when she admits she saw the bag under his bed, he has to keep her
nearby for his own safety.
things which make no sense keep piling up. Like don't corpses in a
trunk for almost a day and other random body parts that show up in different
places start to stink to high heaven? Why is a guy who is supposed to
be holed up in a motel room to wait for a vital criminal transaction leaving
the room empty regularly for extended periods of time? Couldn't a
successful mob hit man afford a nicer car than a thirty-some year old beater
of a sedan with a busted trunk? Why is the desk clerk in a wheel chair
all the time when he can walk? Who is looking for a six-foot-tall
hooker with a blue wig? And if they were, would they do it in a nearly
empty motel in the middle of nowhere? Is there a reason that one pimp
is missing an eye and the other is a midget? Is anyone on Dragna's
payroll? Is everyone on Dragna's payroll?
the surprise late plot twist has the unfortunate side-effect of making
nearly everything at least one character has done throughout the movie seem
unlikely and ridiculous.
Towards the end of the movie, you have to wonder: what was the point of this
whole situation? All of these people died or were maimed, and for
what? Who really thought this was a smart idea?
These same questions come up when you imagine the pitch
meeting in which this film was originally green lit.
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All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2014.