“The Bag Man”, which expands into additional theaters on March 7, may not be a movie you’re familiar with, but the big name talent involved is extremely recognizable. John Cusack takes the lead as a career criminal named Jack who sent to retrieve a mystery bag, that he cannot look in under any circumstances, and then lay low at a sketchy motel while he waits for his employer, a mob-type named Dragna to come and collect it. And just who did they tap to take on the role of cruel and violent Dragna, the king of mafia roles of course, Robert De Niro.
Things go wrong for Jack almost from the word go. After getting shot trying to collect the bag he’s in no mood to suffer fools, but no sooner does he arrive at the indicated motel than he runs into complications with the nosey owner (played with a Southern twang by Crispin Glover), and not sooner does he settle himself in his room than he finds himself hiding a woman (Rebecca Da Costa), who with a blue wig and two less than gentlemanly dudes she wants to evade seems to be a down on her luck hooker, but who turns out to be much more than meets the eye.
John Cusack seems to have a thing for making movies that take place in seedy middle of nowhere motels that are strewn with dark twists and violence, but hey, “Identity” worked well, and “The Bag Man” isn’t too shabby. The tension, both in the plot, and between Cusack and DeCosta keeps the film moving along and fascinating, but if it stumbles it is in trying too hard to be a suspenseful and twisty noirish thriller.
For her part, De Costa nails reinventing the idea of the femme fatale, Cusack is as effective as always and it need not be said that De Niro knows what he’s doing in this capacity, but the plot and the dialogue at times feel too slavish to the concept. It seems the filmmakers were determined to deliver enough surprises and gritty crime movie moments, but fell prey to the risk inherent in anything that is high style and high genre: Going over the line of genre tropes to the realm of cliche, and at turns it feels as if “The Bag Man” crosses that line.
By the time the big reveal roles around most viewers will find that their suspicions which have been kicking around for some while are proven correct, so the climax is less a surprise and more validation. Still those in the mood for suspense, crime, grit and some thrills could do much worse than “The Bag Man”.