Angelina Jolie married
Billy Bob Thornton. Ponder that.
Americans love outlaws, as
long as they aren't American Outlaws. From the days of the Old
West, we have romanticized the image of the bandit on the run, turning
him from unwashed to scruffy, villainous to merely charmingly roguish.
His crimes become beside the point.
And so dissatisfied housewife Kate (Cate
Blanchett) treats the titular bandits (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton).
She immediately overlooks what they do for a living, but that's okay.
By the time she meets up with them, Bandits has been so fun that
the audience forgets they're bank robbers, too.
Director Barry Levinson underplays the
details of the crimes. Though Terry (Thornton) plans the heists with
exacting care, everything ends up feeling off the cuff. Indeed, he wouldn't
even be out of prison if not for the off the cuff escape engineered
by his unlikely buddy Joe (Willis), who in typical Willis fashion affably
smirks his way through trouble. As they politely resume a career of
bank-robbing, the two develop a following as "The Sleepover Bandits,"
whose exploits become fodder for a tabloid television show.
From the beginning, Levinson tips his
hand by casting Bobby Slayton as the crusading journalist/host. When
the Pit Bull of Comedy tries to play it serious, you know it can't be.
In fact, within ten minutes of the opening,
all the pieces have fallen into place to tell you what will happen.
With no real suspense, the film reveals itself to be a quirky character
study, the kind Levinson tried to pull off in his last movie, An
Everlasting Piece, but failed to do. Here it works.
Despite an ambling feel, Bandits
rarely drags. Only the romance scenes slow things down, mainly because
the filmmakers don't seem to want to make a choice anymore than Blanchett
does. She makes a splashy entrance to the film lip-synching to the aforementioned
Bonnie Tyler, and only revs higher from there. Why stop to find love
when fun can be had? And the real dynamic is between Thornton and Willis
Give credit to the stars. Willis and Thornton
both have no problem looking ridiculous. Their robberies involve ridiculous
disguises (with Thornton at one point going for an early Neil Young
look), so they can't have too much dignity intact.
Willis bears it all with his usual easygoing
attitude, even when the hair that's supposed to really be his looks
worse than the wacky wigs. Screenwriter Harley Peyton has also saddled
him with a deep love of philosophy, which really ends being utterly
unimportant. Unless you count being able to bag chicks by sounding deep,
and even then he ends up quoting Bonnie Tyler.
Much of the comic energy comes from Thornton.
His Terry sounds like a beefier version of Don Knotts, but one who makes
Knotts look stable by comparison. A hypochondriac and multi-phobic by
nature, Terry is a walking tic. Thornton gets the best line of the movie,
and displays a real knack for physical comedy once Terry convinces himself
he has a brain tumor. (It only sounds morbid.) The two stars make a
Bandits does something rare for
a modern Hollywood comedy. It sticks to its guns, and that's why it
works. Nothing comes out of the blue. No characters waver from who they
establish themselves to be, especially the wheelman, Joe's dumb cousin
Harvey (Troy Garity). From the outset, all he wants to be is a Hollywood
stuntman, and the idea builds with hilarious results. In the end, it
all means nothing, but you hardly notice.
And so Levinson, who started out as part
of a comedy team, proves that he still knows how to make a solid comedy.
Even as he pulls your leg, you admire him for how boldly he does it.
Let's hope he can keep it up. After a year of lame comedies, we need
more like Bandits.