Except for a couple of scenes where it lives up to its marquee draw (“Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz together for the first time!”), “Bandidas” is surprisingly dull stuff. Not just that, but tedious and at times overly odious in its lame — and some might say, as clever or original as day old bread — jabs at all things Americana. Written by Frenchman Luc Besson and Mark Kamen (and funded by Besson’s Europa Corp.) as some kind of lightweight female version of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Bandidas” stars Cruz and Hayek as mismatched babes turned bank robbing babes. The film is obviously intended to be a fun romp through a fictitious Wild Wild West, but is instead a mostly derivative attempt to capitalize on the popularity (one supposes) of Cruz and Hayek. I say “one supposes” because neither women have proven to have any box office clout, and this duet doesn’t possess enough quality to end that losing streak.
Cruz and Hayek are Maria and Sara, respectively, two very different women (Sara is rich and educated in Europe, Maria is dirt poor and talks to her horse) who team up to battle slimy killer Jackson (Dwight Yoakam), an American who has come down south with an army of similarly greasy and dirty gunmen to steal Mexican land and kill a lot of Mexican folks in cold blood because, you know, that’s just how our villainous Mr. Jackson likes to roll. (Proper and believable character motivations, it seems, has no place in “Bandidas”.) After their respective fathers are attacked (Sara’s is poisoned, Maria’s shot and left for dead) by Jackson, the two ladies team up to rob Jackson’s banks, hoping to keep Jackson from gobbling up more land and kick more people out of their homes.
Taking the Robin Hood route, the women of course give the money back to the poor, whose lands were snatched by the dastardly Jackson for a measly one peso. If they refuse to take the peso, Jackson hands out bullets instead. Ouch. I’d take the peso myself. Determined to stop the bandidas from meddling in his evil plans, Jackson brings nerdy New York Detective Quentin (Steve Zahn) to help catch them. Quentin is not your usual Wild West Detective; he’s determined to prove that “CSI”-type forensics is the future of cop work because, well, the script probably thought it would be cool to see a guy doing “CSI” stuff in the Wild Wild West. Unfortunately for Jackson , Quentin soon realizes that the two women aren’t so bad (plus, they’re hot and they just spent 10 minutes straddling his naked body in bed), and decide to join up in their outlaw ways. Not all that much hilarity, but certainly a game attempt at it by the two leading ladies, ensues.
The main selling point of “Bandidas” is (as if you couldn’t have figured it out by now) the teaming of two gorgeous and famous Latin actresses in the leading roles. To their credit, Hayek and Cruz are clearly giving the film their all, even if their comic banter are of the hit and miss variety, perhaps mostly because Cruz sounds like a squeaking 12-year old girl and Hayek looks so much older than Cruz that I keep thinking they should be playing mother and daughter. It doesn’t help that Besson has never been that good at writing comedy, and as a result the film is left to rely on the two women’s chemistry (they’re friends in real life) and individual charisma to salvage what is an unexceptional piece of cinema. Caveat emptor: if you have no interest in either women, the film will be a train wreck.
“Bandidas” entertains in spurts, such as when the two women have Quentin tied up and the worldly Sara decides to give the virginal Maria an impromptu lesson in the proper ways to kiss a man using Quentin as a test dummy. Lucky bastard. The film’s decision to make the villains American seems like a stretch, as a Mexican villain would have made more sense from a geographical point of view, although an American villain does provide Besson and Kamen opportunities to randomly take cheap pop shots at Americana . Country singer turned actor Dwight Yoakam plays such an evil character that one expects to see Jackson twirling his mustache everytime he speaks.
Perennial second banana Steve Zahn plies his usual comedic sidekick role as the bumbling Quentin, although Zahn’s comedy seems to be limited by a script that doesn’t exactly know comedy on a first name basis. What “Bandidas” needed most was not a restrained Zahn, but to let him loose. There is a welcome cameo by Sam Shepard as an aging outlaw hiding out in Mexico, but like his character’s abrupt introduction, he leaves the show much too soon.
Geared up for Stateside theatrical release sometime in May 2006, “Bandidas” is a silly adventure film about two women who likes to spontaneously engage in catfights, try out new, matching outfits, and who oftentimes ends up wet for various reasons. Fans of both Hayek and Cruz are liable to enjoy the film more than the average moviegoer, and if you don’t fall into that category, than “Bandidas'” 90 minutes will seem like an eternity of rehashed gags. The PG-13 rating guarantees no real nudity, although the film does test its rating’s limit with the aforementioned Steve Zahn tied to a bed while nude as the two women straddle him sequence. Now that’s my idea of being held captive!
Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg (director) / Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)
CAST: Pen’lope Cruz …. Maria
Salma Hayek …. Sara
Steve Zahn …. Quentin Cooke
Sam Shepard ….
Dwight Yoakam …. Mr. Jackson