Monday, February 24, 2014

Nifty/violent/old-fashioned/new-fangled fun: David Grovic's colorful neo-noir, THE BAG MAN

What fun is this -- a real movie-movie that fairly screams neo-noir, yet with a color palette never seen in any noir (at least since Leave Her to Heaven, and this one's much more day-glo-ish); has a tight 'n twisty plot involving trust, betrayal, and what's-in-that-bag; and features a cast to die for, including some first-class "known quantities" working at or near their best, along with some newer-and-not-so-known performers who shine as brightly as do those "stars." THE BAG MAN -- directed by David Grovic and co-written by him, along with Paul Conway, from an original screenplay by actor James Russo, all of whom I gather were inspired by a story called The Cat by Marie-Louise von Franz -- is absolutely as fast-moving and entertaining a movie as you could ask for.

Mr. Grovic, shown at left, breaks his film into three very clear sections. The first (the set-up) and the last (the denouement) are short and sweet. The very long middle section, which houses the twisty plot and climax, is full to the brim with surprise, shock and suspense, along with some dark comedy, a little irony, mega-violence and a high body count but not, thankfully, much undue blood and gore (we see what we have to, but the filmmaker doesn't revel in it, Tarantino-style). Instead, the creative staff does a kind of homage to that cool/hot style of Hollywood noir.

They must love those old movies, for they honor them well, while also using the current tricks-of-the-trade to make their movie move speedily and friskily. Just take a gander at the tacky, broken-down motel with its neon sign and garish, moody lighting, as our maybe-hero and maybe-heroine, stand around bickering and bantering. Yet the movie-makers are also smart enough to ensure that their plot thickens and quickens, delivering plenty of excitement and simmering sexuality to keep us on our marks -- and the characters on theirs.

Details of that plot are best left for you to peruse as the movie rolls along, but  I do have to recommend that you at the very least hang on until a certain scene unfurls -- an original if I've ever seen one. It takes place in and around a car, and although that car finally gets moving, this is not -- thankfully -- a car chase. Instead it's something original: swift, shocking, funny and riveting. Though there's plenty more good stuff, before and after, I must recommend The Bag Man for this singular, hold-your-breath scene alone.

Grovic has cast his film interestingly and well. In one of the lead roles is John Cusack (above, left), an actor who's been working a lot lately, turning in excellent performances, even in movies that were not always first-rate, as is this one. As his leading lady, we have an actress -- Rebecca Da Costa (above, right) -- who has made a few films so far, all unseen by me. I hope this movie sets Ms Da Costa on the fast track because she gives it her all, and that turns out to be quite a lot. Sexy, smart, devious and appealing, she's just about everything a neo-noir heroine/femme fatale should be. She and Cusack work together wonderfully well.

In the third role is an old friend of moviegoers, Robert De Niro (above), who has often been accused over the past decade or so, of phoning in certain performances. Well, the actor is so good here -- specific, resonant, charismatic -- that if you didn't already know who he was, you'd come out of this movie raving, "That guy's gonna be a star!"

In smaller roles, everyone shines -- from the always-fun Crispin Glover (wheelchair-bound, four photos up) as the motel manager to Dominic Purcell (above) as a local cop, Martin Klebba as a tiny-but-naughty henchman, and Sticky Fingaz -- the typing of whose ridiculous name makes my own fingers wince. (If it's going to Fingaz instead of fingers, oughtn't it also be Stickee instead of Sticky? Well, it's all too schticky.) In any case, Mr. Fingaz turns in a good performance, as well.

I may be over-rating this piece of toss-away entertainment. But, damn, The Bag Man is so entertaining (and so smart in so many ways) that it deserves an extra accolade. Consider the above exactly that.

The movie -- another good one from Cinedigm -- opens this Friday, February 28, at AMC theaters all around the country in fifteen cities. Here in NYC, it'll play at the AMC Empire 25. In Los Angeles, you'll find it at the Universal Citywalk Stadium 19. It will also play Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington DC. Consult your local listings in those cities to find the particular AMC theater.

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