Film Review: The Bag Man

John Cusack's performance as a wryly self-aware hit man in the big-&#8217;80s lark <i>Grosse Pointe Blank</i> casts a large and dispiriting shadow over this gloomy thriller about nasty little people (as opposed to literal <i>little people</i>, though ther

Hired gun Jack (Cusack) is one of life's losers, the kind of guy who never winds up with the girl, the gold watch or anything else worth having. All he's good for is running errands for sleek, blow-dried creeps like Dragna (Robert De Niro, styled to look like the love child of Martin Scorsese and Satan), whose moral code dictates that it's okay to punish an employee who's made a mistake by breaking her nose as long as you give her the name of a good plastic surgeon and pick up the tab.
And this week's errand smacks of hellfire long before the flames start licking Jack's ass: All he has to do is pick up a briefcase, take it to a godforsaken motel and wait in a designated room for directions. What's in the bag? That's for Dragna to know and Jack not to find out: Under no circumstances is he to look inside the bag. If he does, well, he'd just better not is all.
Enter the complications, starting with the dead guy in Jack's trunk (don't ask), a towering Israeli hooker in a blue wig and a gold miniskirt (Rebecca Da Costa), a crooked redneck cop (Dominic Purcell, of TV's onetime destination show “Prison Break”) and his brutal deputies, a pair of mismatched thugs (Martin Klebba—a mean-as-moonshine Serbian leg breaker—and former rapper Kirk "Sticky Fingaz" Jones), and a wacked-out front-desk clerk (Crispin Glover) with a mullet and a thing about his late granny's wheelchair.
Previously called both Motel (generic) and The Allegiance Bag (both awkward and opaque until the third act, at which point it becomes brain-bruisingly obvious), the movie's mix of smart talk and dumb violence owes everything to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, but more than two decades down the line the formula is showing its age and occasional actor-turned-filmmaker David Grovic doesn't have the chops to make it seem fresh or new.
What kudos there are go to Cusack and 5'11" Brazilian model Da Costa, who makes a good-faith effort to out-act her endless legs; both buckle down and work their characters until they work…not fabulously well, but just well enough that it's hard not to hope things turn out okay (or at least not too badly) for them.
Destined for life on late-night cable, The Bag Man is the definition of a modest diversion, just the thing for the hours when thinking is too much effort and sleep is elusive.