by DAVID KEYES
Crime capers are some of the most perplexing types of movies
we will ever come in contact with, not simply because they
so closely peer into the lives of seemingly untouchable
outlaws, but because they tend to treat the situation with
a dynamic sense of fanaticism. As crooks wave around weapons
and shout out orders to innocent bystanders, suddenly they
become celebrities, revered by thousands of onlookers who
view their audacious actions not as crimes, but as interventions
against government. Such a case is the essential point behind
"Bandits," the newest movie under director Barry
Levinson's belt, which sees two escaped convicts almost
effortlessly rob bank after bank along the US west coast,
and develop a devoted fan base as a result.
The question is, why do the movies use this detail so incessantly?
Perhaps because audiences can, in ways, identify with the
crooks they're watching on screen. Portrayed correctly,
the thieves aren't simply robbing banks or stealing itemsthey're
taking back what has already been stolen from them. It's
a little detail that has existed as far back as the story
of Robin Hood, and one that continues to play out even in
today's movies. The principle difference between "Bandits"
and many of its relatives, however, is that most films lack
the sense of a necessary rebellious nature, whereas this
film is courageous, delightful, and endlessly funny. And
if you look closely enough, you'll see exactly why crime
capers have worked so well as movies in the past.
The movie is the product of solid direction, great storytelling,
flawless acting and on-the-mark humor, crafted so effectively
and concisely that, yes, it probably succeeds "Shrek"
as the best comedy of the year. Whereas most crime capers
of this caliber would simply fall back on clichés,
however, here is a movie that also takes standard elements
and manages to display them in fresh, invigorating ways.
The obligatory love story and surprise ending are here,
yes, but the method in which they are conveyed leaves us
surprised and pleased.
"Bandits" sees Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton
in familiar roles: the former as a rugged, headstrong and
intellectual individual, the latter more sweet (and yet
more mentally limited) in comparison. Willis is Joe, a prison
inmate in need of anger management who escapes from prison
in a cement truck, and Thornton is Terry, a hypochondriac
who, in a moment of confusion, decides to tag along for
the ride. After cleverly slipping past opposition and breaking
free from the penitentiary (much to the alert of thousands
of law officials who desperately shoot a few thousand rounds
of ammunition at them), the men begin a long and perilous
journey in an effort to retain their freedom.
They drive off of roads, change automobiles, and eventually
stow away in a house occupied only by clueless teenagers.
The point? They need time to concoct a solid plan to stay
out of jail, which (not surprisingly) consists of decisions
that aren't likely to get them in good graces with law enforcement.
Hiding behind several wacky disguises that feel lifted out
of a Quentin Tarrantino script, Joe and Terry eventually
turn to bank robbery to support their almost nonexistent
assets. Early on, the movie even displays how it is possible
to rob a bank filled with customers while you're unarmed.
The style in which these events are presented make a great
case in argument for why bank robbery is such a popular
crime in society; as our unlikely heroes take us through
the process step-by-step, we see that, if one knows exactly
what they're doing, the action really isn't as difficult
as it seems.
It is ultimately the desire of Joe and Terry to lead a
wealthy and strongly-established life south of the United
States border, and to help them in their quest (not to mention
their bank robbery schemes), they acquire the assistance
of Harvey (Troy Garity), a gullible stunt man who is constantly
at work in perfecting methods of how to convincingly die
in front of a camera. Serving as the driver for the getaway
car for the two "Sleepover Bandits" (a title which
they earn after coming up with a more efficient method of
robbing banks), Harvey is both an asset and a savior in
his given position, even though the men he is working for
don't always give him the credit he deserves.
But it's shortly after one particular robbery in which
the seemingly simple plan becomes even more complicated.
As Terry is walking across the road looking for a quick
getaway from nearby cops, he is struck by the car of a depressed
housewife name Kate (Cate Blanchett). When he regains consciousness,
she is driving him to a hospital, an action which he responds
to by waving his gun at her and insisting she pull over
to let him out. But Kate doesn't have a frightened response
to him; in fact, she is rather annoyed by it. Her unwillingness
to cooperate with his request takes her directly to the
cabin in which the bandits are hiding out, thus immersing
her in their illegal plots so deeply that, as a result,
she eventually falls in love with both Joe and Terry. Needless
to say, they do the same.
In terms of value, "Bandits" is a vast improvement
from the material we've had to sit through during the year's
early months, a time when movies like "Blow" and
"Hannibal" were the only worthwhile things playing
at the local cinema. The script by Harley Peyton is precise
and on target, utilizing every moment of the 120-minute
running time without a shred of boredom, and the actors
know how to effectively convey their roles without seeming
like overachievers. Thornton is particularly solid as Terry
(especially during moments which require physical comedy),
and Blanchett gives us yet another reason to be proud as
Kate, the loud, lonely wife of some sort of executive official
whose makeup looks as if it had been applied with a butter
It has been said that autumn is when the gears of Hollywood
shift into a more positive direction, providing us with
the kind of material that screams "Oscar!" "Bandits"
lives up to that potential and promises even greater things