Bandits (2001) Movie Review

The problem with a lot of Hollywood movies nowadays is that everything’s been done and the powers that be don’t feel it necessary to make a movie that “breaks the mold” with every one of their releases. Mind you, there are exceptional movies every now and then, but on a whole Hollywood is content to make “average” films that’s been done before. How then does Hollywood pictures draw in a crowd? That’s easy. They make the “same old thing” except they spice the formula up with A-list actors and a big budget. This is the case with Barry Levinson’s Bandits.

Bandits stars A-listers Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as Joe and Terry, respectively, two prison inmates who somehow strike up a friendship despite being polar opposites. Joe is the strong and silent type prone to sudden action and Terry is a hypochondriac suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and a host of other diseases that are all in his head. When Joe decides he doesn’t like prison anymore, he quickly escapes with Terry in tow.

The two go on the lam but not before Joe decides on the spur of the moment to rob a local bank with a highlight marker. Later, the two agree that the biggest problem with robbing banks is the people they have to deal with inside the bank, and hatches a great idea: they’ll go to the bank manager’s house, take the family hostage for the night, and wait until morning to go back to the bank with the manager and rob the place before anyone arrives! The two are so successful that they suddenly become celebrities and are dubbed the “Sleepover Bandits.” Everything is going perfect until Terry’s car breaks down and he abducts bored housewife Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) who ends up abducting him! When Kate decides she likes the excitement of the criminal life and ends up being part of the gang, that’s when things start to get complicated.

If you haven’t guessed, Bandits is not a reality-driven film. It’s a flighty, fantasy criminal picture, the kind where bank robbers are charming and those being robbed are eager to please. As Joe, Bruce Willis charms his way into his victim’s hearts with a wink and a smile and they return the favor in kind. When the duo gets famous, people are literally falling over themselves to be their victims. It’s all played for laughs, including Kate’s manic depression and the “need for speed” that makes her the perfect accomplice for the two bandits. Since this is a fantasy criminal movie, our two bandits, who never bothers to wear masks (although they do wear absurd wigs and glasses) and are constantly caught on bank cameras, are free to roam bars, hotels, and stores without trouble.

Bandits is a been-there, done-that picture that is predictable from start to finish, and the only real draw is the cast. And my oh my did the filmmakers get themselves some nice gems. Willis is perfect as the impulsive and romantic Joe, while Thornton seems to be having a ball playing the constantly ailing (in his mind, anyway) Terry. A fiery redheaded Cate Blanchett only adds to the stellar A-list cast, and manages to be both whimsical and sexy.

Another member of the cast that acquits himself well is Brian O’Byrne as Darill, Joe’s not-so-bright cousin who becomes the gang’s wheelman, but longs to be a Hollywood stuntman. (At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, I guessed the film’s ending 10 seconds after the Darill character shows up onscreen. If you pay attention and know something about movie “twist endings,” you’ll guess Bandits’ ending, too.)

The screenplay by Harley Peyton is fast and breezy, and the dialogue is crisp, although it might not be much of a stretch to say that Thornton probably expanded the role of Terry quite a bit, because it’s hard to imagine anyone could have picture Thornton’s Terry as that much of an oddball on the written page. If this is indeed the case, then kudos to Thornton. The direction by Barry Levinson is not awe-inspiring, but just okay. Levinson makes the mistake of dragging out some of the romantic scenes between Kate and the gang, in particular a scene at a hotel with Terry and Kate that just seems to go on forever long after the point is made.

Bandits is not a great film. Its premise has been done to death, and the film is highly predictable. For instance, who didn’t know that once Kate was abducted, she would fall immediately for Joe, and then fall for Terry later on, and vice versa? Even a blind man could see these plot “twists” coming a mile away.

The ending is also incredibly silly, but then again, the entire movie is silly. At least it’s a fun kind of silly with a great cast.

Barry Levinson (director) / Harley Peyton (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Willis …. Joe Blake
Billy Bob Thornton …. Terry Collins
Cate Blanchett …. Kate Wheeler

Buy Bandits on DVD