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The Bag Man

Robert De Niro as Dragna in David Grovic's The Bag Man. [Photo: Cinedigm]

The Bag Man 2 out of 4 star2-0

The Bag Man is driven by the everlasting plot of the supposedly simple plan gone loco. Jack (John Cusack) is the criminal of the title, hired by an everyday lord of unimaginably vast import, Dragna (a surprisingly game and funny Robert De Niro), to pick up a mysterious bag and hole up in a motel until the latter can arrive to collect the goods and reward the former with lots of cash. One of Dragna's goons soon betrays Jack, though, destroying his cellphone in the process, while the rendezvous point is revealed to be one of those dusty, neon-lit backwoods netherworlds, untouched by modern conveniences such as the Internet, or soap, that only exist in pulp magazines or movies that usually climax with a chainsaw massacre.

This well-paced and initially amusing film is so rife with moldy contrivances that you're primed to expect a meta twist that reveals all of Jack's troubles to be the imaginary ravings of a deranged inmate or a desperate screenwriter—a suspicion that's magnified by the motel's resemblance to the dark and stormy setting of Identity, which also featured Cusack, and which also hinged on a similar creatively ass-covering conclusion. That suspicion is confirmed, to a degree, as there's an explanation that self-consciously ties all of the absurdities together in a manner that suggests, among other things, that the resemblance Dragna vocally bears to the satanic character that De Niro played in Angel Heart is no mere accident of a prolific legendary actor's repetition. But this revelation dramatically misfires, needlessly accentuating an already unseemly sexist ugliness.

The Bag Man is revealed to be a shaggy-dog story that appears to be intended as a parody of the female objectification that's normally taken for granted in such predominantly male-centric and gun-happy crime thrillers. Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa) is the obligatory woman who must show Jack the errors of his untrusting selfish ways, but not before she's paraded around in tight outfits and nearly stripped and beaten and threatened with rape in sequences that disrupt the film's otherwise competent dark comedic tone. (Spoilers herein.) The Bag Man eventually excuses these indulgences, though, by revealing Rivka to be a co-conspirator of Dragna's who's advised, in advance, of the scenarios she will have to stage for Jack's benefit in order to test his "softness." This premise might make sense, if only hypocritically (after all, director David Grovic has already offered us the "woman in peril" for our delectation, no matter how she's retroactively contextualized), but the film abandons this already flimsy parody of macho pride disastrously at the last minute.

The Bag Man should logically end with Jack getting fleeced by Rivka, as he's fallen for the kind of absurd ruse, ostensibly of the endangered hooker with "the heart of gold," that films often peddle with a straight face and that men happily buy into both inside and outside of the theater. But Jack's naïveté is rewarded along with the audience's when Rivka is conveniently revealed in yet another reversal to be exactly the kind of yielding ultra-hot male fantasy that the film was supposedly parodying, thus rendering all of the complicated identity postulations entirely pointless. It might have occurred to a sincere director that a meaningful refutation of sexist noir clichés might have actually given Rivka something to do apart from operating as the sexiest of all girl Fridays.

Director(s): David Grovic Screenwriter(s): David Grovic, Paul Conway, James Russo Cast: John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell, Crispin Glover, Sticky Fingaz, Theodus Crane Distributor: Cinedigm Runtime: 106 min Rating: R Year: 2014

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