A desolate, rundown motel is not the worst setting for a thriller, but viewers hoping that The Bag Man may be a latter-day counterpart to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho are sure to be disappointed. First-time director David Grovic enlisted two high-class actors, John Cusack and Robert De Niro, for his film noir outing, and they certainly help to elevate the pulpy material. But the sometimes sadistic movie will have a very short shelf life.
In the opening scene a crime kingpin, Dragna (De Niro,) hires Jack (Cusack) to pick up a black leather satchel and implores him not to open the bag. This is the simple mission that instigates a lot of mayhem as Jack arrives at an isolated motel to retrieve the bag and await further instructions. Needless to say, a lot of unexpected obstacles arise, courtesy of the seedy denizens of the motel as well as a bunch of crooked cops who make trouble for Jack. He finds a potential ally in a hooker named Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), a femme fatale who is probably not exactly what she seems to be. As bodies pile up and Jack survives several near-fatal attacks, the true nature of his mission eventually becomes clear.
The script by Grovic and Paul Conway, based on an earlier screenplay by James Russo, unfolds rather monotonously until the final reel, when some unpredictable plot twists do give a little lift to the narrative. The most unpleasant aspect of the movie is a considerable amount of violence against women, which often seems gratuitous and repellent.
Cusack holds the screen and has several opportunities to demonstrate his subtlety as an actor. De Niro makes the most of his few scenes, though there’s no clear answer to the film’s biggest mystery: why this Oscar-winning actor appears in so many marginal movies. Da Costa is attractive and competent, though she won’t erase memories of film noir’s greatest anti-heroines. Crispin Glover has a neat cameo as the motel manager with a mother fixation. This little homage to Psycho isn’t the film’s only inside reference; a hand reaching from the grave evokes the famous last scene of Carrie.
The dark atmosphere, often rain-drenched, is effectively rendered by cinematographer Steve Mason, and the score by Tony Morales and Edward Rogers is haunting. If it weren’t for the touches of cruelty, this might have been a passable B-movie, but Bag Man ends up wasting the A-list talent caught up in the lurid exercise.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 28 (Cinedigm)
Cast: John Cusack, Robert De Niro, Rebecca Da Costa, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell, Martin Klebba
Director-executive producer: David Grovic
Screenwriters: David Grovic, Paul Conway
Based on the screenplay by: James Russo
Producers: Peter D. Graves, Warren Ostergard, Cherelle George
Director of photography: Steve Mason
Production designer: J. Dennis Washington
Music: Tony Morales, Edward Rogers
Costume designer: Liz Staub
Editors: Devin Maurer, Michael R. Miller
No rating, 108 minutes
Robert De Niro