With the crime romance "Bandits," writer Harley Peyton has created a trio of wonderfully nutty characters who find themselves in the gifted hands of director Barry Levinson. Known for his knack for turning eccentricity into charming, often poignant entertainment, Levinson here comes up short. Adding to the problem is the movie's 124-minute running time. "Bandits" gets lost amid subplots and narrative gimmicks that add to the movie's length but not to our enjoyment.
As the triumvirate of wackiness, however, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton turn in solid performances, attacking their roles with the delight of actors set free by comic lunacy. But despite these comic turns and the movie's many funny moments, "Bandits" suffers from an identity crisis: Is it a romance? a crime caper? a buddy flick? In the end, it's "Bandits'" hybrid nature that hamstrings its ability to keep us entertained.
Levinson and Peyton also choose to tell their story in a flashback, which not only wastes screen time but never pays off with the dramatic impact the two obviously were after. In an apparent dig at TV's current bent for "reality" programming, "Bandits" follows the exploits of Willis and Thornton, two bank robbers known as "The Sleepover Bandits." The movie begins awkwardly with the reflections of an "America's Most Wanted"-type host (Bobby Slayton), who recalls their less-than stellar career.
Once the filmmakers land and stay in the past, the movie starts to take off. Joe (Willis), a spontaneous, carefree convict, impulsively decides to break out of an Oregon slammer, taking his fastidious and methodical sidekick, Terry (Thornton), along for the wild ride. Their slam-bang escape leads swiftly to the first bank robbery featuring their trademark technique: Joe and Terry track down their targeted bank manager at home, take him and his family hostage, stay the night and then accompany the man to the bank the next morning when the vault opens. After each robbery, the trio splits up for two weeks before reuniting on the next job. It's clean and simple no break-ins, no gunplay and little stress.
All that changes when Kate (Blanchett) crashes into their lives. Literally. Trying to make her own escape from a desperately dull life as a housewife married to a distant husband Kate hits the hitchhiking Terry. She all but kidnaps Terry, forcing her way into the gang. Not surprisingly, her sex appeal wins Joe over quickly. Then, through more contrived circumstances, she winds up sleeping with Terry too.
Torn between the two men, Kate can't make up her mind about which one she wants. In truth, she wants them both because together, the intuitive, fun-loving Joe and the sensitive though hypochondriac Terry, make the perfect mate.
But Levinson and Peyton can't leave well enough alone. Instead, they decide to put their characters through even more robberies, more interviews and more plot mechanics that reveal next to nothing about their psyches. Joe, Terry and Kate never rise above these superficial constraints, remaining mere compilations of eccentricities, quirks and attitudes. We never get a hint of what lies beneath, why these once ordinary people found their inner lives rooted in neuroses and unmet desires. There's a pretty funny movie buried deep within "Bandits," but Levinson fails to mine it.
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