The Bag Man (opening today) operates on a very simple premise, as illustrated in the opening sequence by Robert De Niro's villainous mob boss, Dragna. You go pick up the bag, you don't look in the bag. You take the bag where I tell you to. I give you money for transporting the bag. Capice?
This "bag man" is Jack (John Cusack), who agrees to the mission. But in the next scene - flashing-forward - we see Jack desperately trying to reach Dragna, with a bloodied hand where he had been shot. Apparently, the whole transferring of the bag thing didn't go quite as planned.
For a short time, The Bag Man seemed like it had promise as a slick, dark crime story, in the style of The Coen Brothers' Blood Simple. But it comes off more as a wanna-be. A dime-a-dozen crime thriller that has nearly nothing going for it despite it's big-name stars.
Even though he's just been shot, Jack is asked to check into a hotel and to wait in Room 13 for Dragna. When he gets there, there is a whole gaggle of strange characters we are introduced to: The creepy hotel manager (Crispin Glover, perfectly cast), a thug named Lizard (Sticky Fingaz),his little person side-kick Guano (Martin Klebba) and a prostitute (?) named Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa). There's also some shady cops in the neighboring room and a pesky Sheriff who eventually shows up.
So what the heck is in the bag? Roger Ebert would point out that the bag in this film is a classic "MacGuffin," a plot device used to further along the plot while never really stopping to describe what it is or how it's valuable. But unlike many MacGuffins throughout the history of film, this one does eventually reveal to us what is in the bag. Like learning the secrets of a magic trick, it kind of takes away from its importance and spoils the fun, although it does feed our curiosity.
The problem here though, is that by the time the bag's contents are revealed, we could hardly care. While Jack shoots his way out of every situation, outsmarting bad guys at every turn, the film loses steam. Every single character is a different brand of scum and only De Niro seems to having any fun.
The more we learn about The Bag Man, the more we realize its shallow nature. These are bad men behaving badly, blood and gore for the sake of it and some poor attempts at characterization that leave us feeling cold and uncaring. This bag is one that I would gladly hand off, with the strict warning to others not to look inside...it's just not worth the trouble.
Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated R
Starring: John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell, Sticky Fingaz, Martin Klebba
Co-Written & Directed by David Grovic (feature-film debut)
Opens locally on Friday, March 7, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time