Bring A Vomit Bag.
DIRECTED BY DAVID GROVIC/2014
Every once in a while, a movie is able to do a lot with just a little bit. Able to accomplish the impossible and overcome its limitations in budget, talent or otherwise and end up becoming much greater than the sum of its parts. The Bag Man is the exact opposite of such a movie.
The movie opens with a Pulp Fiction-esque, too-cool-for-school dinner meeting on a private jet between two shady looking characters, the $5000 suit wearing Dragna—who being played by Robert De Niro must be the villain in this scene—and the sunglasses-at-night, clad-in-black Jack, played by John Cusack. The Bag Man gets into motion quickly with a simple premise: Jack must deliver a bag to Dragna. Upon delivery, Jack will be paid a large sum of money. The one condition: Jack must not look in the bag. Why not just ask FedEx? Well, Dragna wants Jack to deliver this bag, stop asking questions. After picking up the bag—apparently in a shootout that didn’t make the final cut— Jack holes up at a seedy motel for the night, biding time until he can meet Dragna the next day. This will be the longest night of his life, as he deals with a cast of characters including the creepy motel clerk (Crispin Glover), a gangster dwarf named Guano (Martin Klebba), his partner Lizard (Onyx rapper Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones), the six-foot, blue wig wearing hooker (Rebecca Da Costa) hiding from them, and a sleazy cop named Zed Larson (Dominic Purcell) who finds it hard to believe that Jack and his bag are just “passing through.” What is Jack willing to do to ensure that the bag makes it through the night unopened?
Director and co-writer David Grovic has all the pieces set for a fun, suspenseful crime flick: colorful characters, a mysterious protagonist and a MacGuffin. The first two acts of The Bag Man are that fun neo-noir flick you were hoping to watch. You can forgive the overly serious “this is not Grosse Pointe Blank” performance from Cusack; you can forgive the stock De Niro villain—it’s basically B-roll footage at this point; and you can forgive the verging-on-parody nods to other movies (I imagined the bag contained Blu-rays of Pulp Fiction, The Transporter and Identity). What you can’t forgive, or at least Ican’t, is the third act, where it all unravels in an incredibly dubious and progressively ridiculous reveal. I’m not talking end of LOST kind of ridiculous; but it’s comparable to the disappointment I have when a thought-provoking, awe-inspiring commercial ends up being for a monolithic investment firm.
For all its pedigree, The Bag Man smacks of committee rewrites, edits and test-screenings. The ending is so unwieldy and out of left field, that I’m surprised the filmmakers didn’t just cut to Porky Pig announcing, “That’s all folks!” Now, absurd twists can be forgiven, as long as you don’t cheat. But The Bag Man cheats. Not only does it cheat, it also features some seriously misogynistic overtones that seem completely out of place in such a mainstream film. If violence against women and attempted rape in film turns your stomach, skip The Bag Man. Those heinous acts are treated like character development points here—oh, he’s the kind of guy who hits women, noted—and are not given any sense of gravity beyond shock value. It would be like having a racist character who calls everyone the N-word because that’s his “thing.”
The Bag Man overpromises and underdelivers. If you really need to see De Niro and Cusack on the screen at the same time, buy a Say Anything poster and tape it to your TV during a TBS broadcast of Meet the Parents.