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'The Bag Man' review: Actors anonymous

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

12:00 AM CST, March 6, 2014

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* (out of four)

The tagline for "The Bag Man" is "The cat's in the bag." A cat is not actually in the bag. And it takes almost the entire movie to find out what's in the bag, which -- spoiler alert! -- you can pretty much guess if you remember the answer to Brad Pitt asking, "What's in the box?"

"Inspired by" Marie-Louise von Franz's story "The Cat" and re-written from a script called "Motel" by James Russo ... wait, let's pause a second. Russo also wrote a movie called "The Box." This guy clearly likes transportable modes of storage.

Anyway, "The Bag Man" features the latest in Evanston native John Cusack's ("The Paperboy," "The Raven") efforts to be miscast in everything. You'd think the actor would be more cautious about seedy lodging after "Identity" and "1408," yet there's Jack (Cusack) spending most of "The Bag Man" holed up in a Louisiana dive, waiting for his boss, Dragna (Robert De Niro), to collect the titular bag. No one will be surprised this dingy, barely released movie marks yet another indifferent De Niro performance, significant only because of how tickled director/co-writer David Grovic must have been when the legend signed on. Sadly, it's been a long time since his involvement guaranteed anything.

I'm extremely tempted to tell you the motive behind Dragna's assignment, because no one should waste two hours waiting for such a flimsy, stupid explanation. Beforehand, there's a lot of weak bickering and contrived bonding between Jack and cleavage-and-blue-wig-sporting hooker Rivka (Brazilian actress Rebecca Da Costa, struggling with English), with whom he has about as much chemistry as he does with the Crispin Glover-like motel manager (conveniently played by Crispin Glover). Rapper Sticky Fingaz plays an eyepatch-wearing pimp named Lizard, which is far less interesting than it sounds.

Outside of a very unexpected reference to "Full House," the dark, grimy, violent "The Bag Man" is just "Fleabag: The Movie," forcing you to watch this drivel instead of free HBO.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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