Review: Bandits

Barry Levinson’s latest is shamelessly devoid of subtext.

Photo: MGM

Barry Levinson’s latest is shamelessly devoid of subtext. Instantly forgettable, Bandits is so consciously hellbent on revealing the obvious that it seeks cold comfort in a trick ending, a bland clever-just-to-be-clever punchline. In the middle of a bank heist, robbers Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) bicker over their shared love for a woman. A reporter informs us that the men commit suicide, thus closing the book on the story of the Sleepover Bandits. Cut to Joe and Terry’s escape from prison and the film’s simple premise is instantly set into motion. Stripped of any spontaneity, it’s just a matter of time before the men meet, greet, woe and get screwed over by their female kidnap “victim.” Said victim, Kate (Cate Blanchett), prepares dinner while lip-syncing to “Holding Out For A Hero.” When her husband informs her that he’s too busy to eat her food and suggests that she go catch a film instead, we get the otherwise obvious hint that our heroine is indeed holding out for a hero. Kate does double duty as spurned housewife and repository of cheesy ’80s music, bumping into Terry while lip-syncing to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Kate is wooed by the manly Joe and obsessive-compulsive Terry and finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Who needs one man to cure one’s boredom when you have two to do the job? Threesomes come with a price, though, so it sucks for Kate that she can’t combine the two men into one. Levinson frequently cuts away to interview footage Joe and Terry did with a newspaper reporter—this is the director vying for Wag the Dog credibility. As much as Levinson tries, he fails to evoke society’s obsession with quasi-heroic criminals (indeed, Joe and Terry are no modern-day Robin Hoods). Yes, they are stealing from the rich, but they are only giving to themselves. They’re polite but their ethics are simple-minded. Target here is the federal government’s bank insurance policy. They absolve themselves of guilt by stealing less than the insurable amount of $100,000. Harley Peyton (“Twin Peaks”) inundates the script with enough absuridst flourishes to counteract the smug moral discourse and blasé direction. Save for the hysterical sequence where the boys try to engage in pleasant dinnertime conversation with a kidnapped man’s family, the film is predicated on all sorts of loose ends and false expectations.

 Cast: Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, Troy Garity, Brian F. O'Byrne, Bobby Slayton, Stacey Travis, January Jones  Director: Barry Levinson  Screenwriter: Harley Peyton  Distributor: MGM  Running Time: 125 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2001  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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