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‘The Bag Man’: Why are De Niro, Cusack in this irritating mess?

Robert De Niro’s triumphs do not include his wiggy mobster “The Bag Man.”  |   CINEDIGM

Robert De Niro’s triumphs do not include his wiggy mobster in “The Bag Man.” | CINEDIGM

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Jack John Cusack

Dragna Robert De Niro

Rivka Rebecca Da Costa

Cinedigm presents a film directed by David Grovic and written by Grovic and Paul Conway. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (for violence, sexual content and language). Opens Friday at AMC South Barrington 30 and on demand.

Updated: April 8, 2014 6:11AM

One can’t help but wonder what Robert De Niro and John Cusack saw in the script for “The Bag Man” that made two of our most interesting actors sign up for this irritating mess of a movie.

Sure, maybe it was the payday, but this hardly looks like the kind of movie where anyone was spending a ton of dough on anything.

What it looks like is warmed-over Tarantino mixed with a third-rate tribute to the Coen brothers with a dose of David Lynch-ian madness, two decades late to the party.

It’s a good thing De Niro wants to keep working, because occasionally we’re rewarded with nuggets of cinematic gold such as his cameo in “American Hustle,” but here we get Self-Parody Bobby, with De Niro playing a wig-wearing and wigged-out mobster named Dragna who likes to give flourish-filled speeches before punching a woman in the face or threatening an underling.

We begin with Dragna on a private jet with a hit man named Jack (Cusack), with Dragna cutting up his blood-rare steak and using the meat and vegetables on his plate to explain the job he has for Jack. (This is one of the few scenes De Niro and Cusack have together.) All Jack has to do is pick up the bag, don’t look inside the bag, transport the bag to a designated location, don’t look inside the bag, and wait for Dragna to pick it up — but whatever Jack does, he shouldn’t look inside the bag.

Gee, I wonder if the bag is supposed to remind us in any way of the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

Once Jack takes possession of the bag, things start going horribly wrong. Shots fired and all that. He checks into a seedy motel in Louisiana that’s simmering with a “check out this cool set!” vibe that is so disconnected from any kind of real-world feel, at first I wondered if Jack was dead and we were in some of sort of afterworld.

But no, we’re just knee-deep in a pretentious movie.

Much of the story, such as it is, takes place in and around that motel, which is bathed in admittedly interesting noir colors and populated by a bizarre cast of characters, including Crispin Glover as a beyond-creepy hotel manager who screams, “No one touches my wheelchair! It belonged to my dead mother!”; Rebecca Da Costa as a 6-foot-tall hooker with blue hair; a bad guy named Lizard who sports an bejeweled eye patch, and an evil Serbian dwarf who at one points stands over an unconscious Jack and relieves himself.

Every once in a while Jack has to fend off another attack from henchmen or crooked cops, all of whom want that bag and its mysterious contents. Meanwhile, Dragna quotes everything from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to a particularly poignant episode of “Full House” to explain his motivations, which remain murky to the very end.

Director and co-writer David Grovic seems to relish shocking us with bursts of cruel violence and oh-so-clever plot twists, but we never get a sense of who Jack is and how he came to this place in his life and why he’s resourceful one moment and pretty dumb the next. It all feels arbitrary.

As I write this, “The Bag Man” is clocking in at a clean 0 percent of Fresh reviews among “Top Critics” on Rotten Tomatoes, with a whopping 10 percent approval rating among all critics.

We need to find the 10 percent and ask them if they were just kidding.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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