Bandits (2001)

Even before the finale pulls a trick out of The Sting, this Barry Levinson romantic crime spree movie has the feel of a George Roy Hill Newman / Redford vehicle, with a touch of Bing and Bob and Dottie on a Road to Somewhere, as Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, the Sleepover Bandits, divide their time between polite, non-violent robberies and a three-way romance with neurotic runaway housewife Cate Blanchett. It opens (like Swordfish) with a bank siege in progress and skips to the taping of a Criminals At Large special on the bandits, who are supposed to have died in a hail of bullets, then flashes back to follow the careers of Joe Blake (Willis), an impulsive charmer, and Terry Collins (Thornton), a fussy hypochondriac, as they supposedly save up enough from their heists to buy a luxury retirement home in Mexico (though Terry notes 'I have sanitation issues'). Things go well until Terry has to hijack Kate Wheeler (Blanchett), a ditzy housewife, and she first latches onto the excitement and sexual charisma of Joe before realising she also needs the attention and shared interest in cuisine she gets from Terry – which opens a rift between the buddies settled when Kate decides not to decide.

This is still quite daring material for a mainstream movie, but the edge is taken off by the obviously fantasised depiction of these lives – it's the sort of film that gets laughs from the outrageous hairpieces the bandits wear for their hold-ups, though they are hardly more obvious than the rugs Willis and Thornton sport for the rest of the picture. The sprightly Harley Peyton script keeps giving the stars good bits of business (especially Road-like is Willis's fooling the symptom-mimicking Thornton into believing he has a debilitating brain tumour) and Levinson gets solid work from the male leads (both relaxing a little after recent acting exertions), and exceptionally good work from Blanchett (the only character who seems to feel real pain or arousal). Nevertheless, it's a tad too protracted, with padding about a fifth wheel would-be stuntman getaway driver (even he admits he's surplus, though his effects expertise is used in the get-out clause finish) and satire of an overworked target in the jabs at true crime programming. In lieu of a romantic bicycle ride, we get fireworks on the beach.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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