THE BAG MAN is a broken wheel barrow of a movie filled with corpses and endtrails dragged reluctantly down a dirt highway by John Cusak with Robert Deniro greasing the wheels with slop. This is a filthy Motel pitstop for both actors, and neither of their reputations will survive. Desperate, and violent. A sodium vapor lit parade of relentlessly distasteful acts bereft of any quality other than derivative screenwriting and lazy acting.
John Cusak’s patented easy going hit man on the edge puppetry falls flat and exhausted with nothing to cushion the demise of his default demeanor. Cusak looks about to cry. No padding, not Russian midgets, eyed patched OG’s, nor giant amazonian female hookers or cripples healed from the wheel chair can help Jack (Cusack) create interest or suspense in this banal painful thriller. This movie is a tragedy, not as a genre but as yet another roadside signpost pointing to the end of cinema.
Room 13. With no connecting rooms in a wretched Motel abortion, Cusak sits waiting for his boss with a satchel. His only instructions, given with extreme sarcasm by his boss DRAGNA (De Niro) via the world’s most stupid food analogy. Steak, potato and broccoli is the bag. Get the bag, wait in room 13 and DO NOT open the bag.
Cusack’s blank face says it all. I’m not supposed to touch your broccoli, got it, thanks. Wait a minute, is the potato the bag? I understand you’re the meat. So I get the bag on top of the meat and then you give me the green. Oh haha, green equals money. Right ok sorry, got it. The potato is the bag!
De Niro’s quirks and shoulder shrugs are disturbing tells of caricature, not acting. So over the top, De Niro enters a new slanderous region that eventually sinks The Bag Man off the shores of a mental institute’s island.
The island is a road kill motel called Oasis run by Ned from his mom’s wheel chair. The one earnest moment in the movie sparks when (Crispin Glover) Ned appears. The animals check in and bleed all over the rooms, walls and parking lot. Driving in circles, shooting, knifing and shoveling each other to death. Dragna pulls together a list of lunatics and sets them straight to Jack’s lucky numbered room 13.
First to trip over Jack is (Rebecca Da Costa) Rivka, the cliche hooker with a broken heart. Giant boobs and thin as a rail, wrapped in blue hair, a red bodice and gold skirt, Rivka is played with all the skill of broken sticks and silly putty, not a single reaction shot or word touches character. Rivka as Jack’s love interest is such a stretch you can hear bones break. Dressed like a Wonder Woman hooker, she stalks the motel’s perimeter, waiting to stare someone down, as her pimp and his midget bodyguard stalk her and threaten Jack.
The motel is tiny. How her pimp keeps losing her is not funny, or interesting. It just keeps happening. Wait, what? You’re not a superhero?
Bad cops bring on the hate, dragging Jack to the station for some male bonding and punching bag action with Rivka not far behind stricken by love or a mission of first to kill Jack. She awkwardly trips into nearly becoming rape victim, a scene desperate to drag some sexy into the strangely asexual Da Costa scenes. De Costa brings all the sexual tension of a strung out heroin addict or a chest bloated river corpse to her role leaving the rape scene very Walking Dead. Rivka manages to stick her skinny legs into Jack’s business and he let’s her.
How Jack can be hit by her shallow depth charge of emotion, really lessens Jack’s validity as his trademark Grifter hit man. If you want to watch Cusack look at an empty wall this is the movie for you.
The obvious question or device of Bag Man is why is Jack waiting in room 13 with a bag he can’t look inside, while obvious autistic murderers troll the doorways? Smart Jack knows it’s a setup. He gets shot by Dragna’s bag contact. Then he shoots down a pair of fake cops in the room next door, after side stepping the Frankenstein’s monster of all hookers, her neanderthal pimp and his little person pal in a track suit.
But Dumb Jack let the hooker in, gets beaten down by sadistic cops and let’s Ned out act him from a wheel chair. He buries the bag and Jack then goes back to waiting for what he knows will be a bad ending with Dragna.
The supporting cast never once gives Cusack something to play off. Leaving him to hang off the edge of the cheap set and Twilight Zone shadows surrounding the motel with its one road to freedom. A road they suspiciously drive up and down but never leave. Is this purgatory, limbo or is the lighting budget too small to get farther out?
We’re treated to a repulsive flashback or cutaway to Dragna, decked out like a flush dentist, taking out his WASPISH rage on a secretary. He breaks her nose, then smashes it in again then gives her the name of a good plastic surgeon. Hey, Dragna’s a complicated guy. So complicated, I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing. Though he does manage to remind us how much smarter he is and he has the apish violence to back up his claims.
So I know there is a head in the bag. That much is obvious from the beginning. It’s the standard cliche that is supposed to shock but always fails to. Since it’s become a cliche. Note to broken nosed secretary. Head in bag not shocking, get a new idea.
I know Dragna sent all these sad misanthropes to kill Jack. Even Jack knows that and tells Dragna. When Jack finally figures out to move to room 14, one room away, wow he’s safe now, I know there has got to be hope Jack finally gives up on trusting Dragna. I am morally bankrupt by the time Dragna finally arrives for the bag.
Trust. One word. And very important to Dragna. To test Jack, Dragna set him up, threw all the armed retards at him, finally to arrive via limo with one question.
“Did you look in the bag, Jack?” That’s it.
“No, I didn’t” Jack winces. And Dragna believes him, sliding into a diatribe to sink icebergs.
“Who do you think you’re talking to? You don’t talk to me, I talk to you!”
“But if I answer you? Aren’t I talking to you? Or are you talking about who starts talking first? Like I can’t talk to you unless you talk to me?”
It’s all been a test of trust. Dragna knows Jack didn’t look in the bag cause it’s the head of his dead wife Dragna killed because he didn’t want to lose Jack to her. Even though Dragna just threw a half dozen bad actors at Jack to kill him. Dragna values Jack so much that he has an insane job for him which will make him a millionaire. This job is a life changer and to prepare for it Dragna drags Jack through the grinder. See the logic?
What is this SURVIVER?
But first Dragna has to get in a gun fight with Jack and get murdered because after saying how incredibly smart he was. Dragna was unable to gauge Jack’s reaction to knowing Dragna murdered his loving wife and handed him her decayed head in a bag he’s been dragging around all night.
Confused repulsion is what De Niro drew from me whenever he was on screen. Why is De Niro doing this, what is he doing? Doesn’t he have enough money and savy to know not to be in this debacle? I know actors have to make money also and need to feed their families. So i understand Cusack taking the role. There isn’t a lot on his horizon right now.
But De Niro? Get outa here! He could live offa free meals from any Italian restaurant in New York for the rest of his life. He has free tickets to any show in the world. He could always move in with Marty.
So the love birds, the killer hooker that wasn’t a hooker, but Dragna’s hit girl and the trusted killer who couldn’t be trusted, fly back to New York, to threaten Dragna’s lawyer to give them 5 million in gold, stocks and cash.
To live happily ever after in the musty closet of terribly bad movies waiting for a responsible secretary to press delete.