“The Bag Man” Movie Review
Caveat emptor. Its etymology is Latin, but it makes a summarily exemplary epitaph for David Grovic’s debut feature “The Bag Man;” let the buyer beware. Cheap, filled with insalubrious antics and a knowing tongue-and-cheek attitude that overestimates its own cleverness, “The Bag Man” replicates those most ardent Quentin Tarantino knock-off’s (such as “Go” and “Love and a .45”) that arose in the wake of “Pulp Fiction,” as well as using a well worn device which both recalls Tarantino’s best and one of the inspirations for“Pulp Fiction,” that of the slinky “Kiss Me Deadly.”
The latin may seem aloof for an opening, but its what Grovic has chosen for his villain, the scoundrel criminal Dragna (Robert De Niro) to espouse. Very rarely during the few moments in which De Niro chooses to enter the frame does a quotation from Herman Hesse or Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” seem very far from his lips. But his ultimate task is to make sure that Jack (John Cusack) delivers a bag to a specific location. One rule: no peeking into the bag. Although this task is given in a decidedly cold opening where De Niro denotes these exact orders by threateningly using a steak as his model. He tells Jack that he must simply pick up and drop off a bag.
“The Bag Man” eventually moves its central action to a murky motel where all sorts of bottom feeders and low life barnacles have hooked their tendrils into. Once Jack retrieves the bag, through an off screen scuffle, and arrives at his motel destination, he meets a host of unsavory characters. From Crispin Glover’s wheelchair clad night manager, who keeps to himself rarely asking questions, to gangsters Lizard (Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones) and Guano (Martin Klebba),
Jack comes into conflict which each one over the contents of the bag he’s transporting.
Grovic’s “The Bag Man” seems far too impressed with his ideas of humor as well as the conceit of the film. Much of his idea of humor and development stems out of dialogue pieces between Cusack, whom barely seems attentive in his role, and Rivka (Rebecca De Costa) who ends up being the most fully fleshed character of the film. However, De Costa spends much of her time on screen being manhandled and heaved about, revealing highly problematic depictions of
violence that Grovic almost plays off as tantalizing.
Some, if not most, of “The Bag Man” succumbs to the belief in being far more pertinent than it actually is, even carrying a portentous New York epilogue which poses far more questions than answers. The set is admirably designed, given the dark, seedy atmosphere and production designer J. Dennis Washington has provided a dank, dark environment which suggests a convincing location that exists in the ennui of backwoods swamp lands.
The action set-pieces leave much to be desired, almost shrugging them off as a laborious necessity to keep events moving swimmingly.
De Costa’s character, Rivka, remains the character with the most agency throughout the film. De Niro seems to be enjoying the material he’s been given. Leaving Cusack, porridge faced and seemingly disinterested. After this long jeremiad against “The Bag Man,” it may seem that there is nothing of value to look forward to other than facetious humor and limp action sequences. That may not be true since De Niro also sports an absolutely absurd pompadour that may deserve its own film credit. There also may be nothing like it on the planet.
Even so, “The Bag Man” leaves much to be desired and remains a film that’s both baggy in length, execution and presentation.