Joe (Bruce Willis) has anger-management issues. Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) is a hypochondriac. In prison, they have formed a friendship that each seems to rely on. One day, Joe impulsively decides to break out, using an unattended cement mixer. Terry quickly jumps in and they are free. After they have eluded the cops, they quickly form a foolproof plan to rob banks. They will visit the bank manager at home, the night before, stay with them, and then rob the bank the next morning. Joe enlists the aid of his slow-witted cousin, a young man interested in becoming a stuntman, to be their driver. The first such robbery goes off without a hitch and they quickly become known as the Sleep Over bandits. The threesome split up and agree to meet two weeks later at their next location. En route to the meeting, Terry runs out of gas. Walking to get more gas, he is hit by Kate (Cate Blanchett). She insists on taking him to the doctor and when she figures out who and what he is, she decides to go along for the ride, to escape from her oppressive marriage. Joe is very interested in Kate and the three form a strange sort of relationship.
Written by Harley Peyton and directed by Barry Levinson, “Bandits” is a strange little slice of wonderful. The film tells the story using a strange mixture of styles. At times, we think the story is told in flashback, using a climatic bank robbery in Century City, Los Angeles, as the catalyst. Other times, the story seems to be part of a documentary on an “America’s Most Wanted” clone. This strange mix works, most of the time, creating a strange sense of pacing that helps to reveal the characters and keep us laughing at their eccentricities.
Bruce Willis’ portrayal of Joe is the least flashy and least interesting. Joe is the strong, silent type and Willis does this well, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with here.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Terry with an abandon that we haven’t seen from him. Terry is a hypochondriac and he plays the character to perfection. He masterfully avoids crossing over into cartoon territory and manages to keep the character believable and interesting. Sporting a series of ridiculous wigs as disguises and constantly ‘coming down with something’, his character just seems completely different from the type of person he normally plays. Slightly effeminate, high strung, always nervous, he is also extremely funny. I roared with laughter when Terry wakes up and shouts “Rabbits and beavers” at the top of his lungs in a small cabin. This is obviously yet another phobia of his and the point is illustrated quickly and bizarrely.
The first time we see Cate Blanchett, Kate is replacing a light bulb in her refrigerator. As she puts in the blue light, her features are washed in a soft, blue light that only serves to make her already stunning features even more beautiful. The only reason I can think of for this moment is that Barry Levinson was equally captivated with her looks. Can’t blame him. Blanchett is easily one of the most beautiful actresses working in film today. Beyond that, she is also an excellent actress. She effortlessly creates the role of a deeply disillusioned American housewife and makes it seem so real. She is also very funny, but her role is more serious, providing a catalyst between the two men. Once both men have fallen in love with her, there is an especially good scene. She knocks on Terry’s door. He smiles expectantly, they share a few words. She says good night. Then she knocks on Joe’s door. He smiles expectantly, they share a few words and she says good night. She goes to bed alone.
“Bandits” is an excellent comedy for adults to enjoy. The actors are adults and do things adults would do and say funny things adults would do. What a refreshing thing to see. We can laugh at the situations these adults get in as they travel down the West Coast, from Oregon to Los Angeles. Even more refreshing is that the film doesn’t rely (or even contain) any ‘bathroom humor’. We aren’t expected to laugh at someone drinking beer with something added to it, or at people acting dumb.
If anything, “Bandits” suffers from the unique pacing it establishes early on. As the film progresses, the mixture of styles and pacing wears a little thin and one of the plot machinations becomes very obvious, slowing things down a little. But this is a small price to pay for an overall excellent film.