Sometimes crime does pay.
Director Barry Levinson is an enigma. Here is a guy who has consistently produced excellent films like Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam and Wag The Dog. Yet for every The Natural that Levinson hits out of the ballpark, there are a gaggle of bombs and disappointments waiting in the dugout—Toys, Jimmy Hollywood, Liberty Heights, Sphere, and An Everlasting Piece come to mind. In fact, I always have the feeling that Levinson sometimes half-heartedly puts out certain films as theater filler (when the acclaimed Wag The Dog came out theatrically, it was around the same time as Levinson's tedious sci-fi action thriller Sphere). In 2001, Levinson met somewhere in the middle with his interesting yet failed caper/comedy/romance/action/suspense/drama Bandits. Starring Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan, Armageddon), Bruce Willis (Die Hard, Hart's War) and Cate Blanchett (The Gift), Bandits arrives on DVD in a "special edition" care of MGM Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
After busting out of jail via a cement truck, on-the-lam cons Joe Blake (Willis) and Terry Collins (Thornton) decide to make a little cash that will be used to open up a nightclub in a tropical paradise—unfortunately, the way these guys are making their money is by robbing banks! Deciding that the best way to safely rob a bank is to avoid all the security measures, Joe and Terry become the "sleepover bandits" due to their decision to kidnap the bank managers at night, stay with them until morning, then use them to disable any alarm systems before the bank opens! Hooking up with an oddball partner (Troy Garity) who drives the getaway car but dreams of being a Hollywood stuntman, Terry and Joe hit bank after bank with great ease…until a married woman comes between them! Scamming a ride from the somewhat nutty suburban housewife Kate Wheeler (Blanchett), Terry arrives at their meeting spot with what the authorities believe is a hostage. But to Joe and Terry's surprise, she turns out to be a fourth bandit that falls for both Joe AND Terry! Things are about to get hot, heavy, and dangerous as a love triangle emerges that could put the bandit's whole operation in jeopardy!
It's been a while since I've seen a movie as schizophrenic as Bandits. Here is a movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too, then have some ice cream and pudding just for fun. Bandits is a romantic comedy. It's also an action movie. And a suspenseful drama. And a quirky caper. In fact, the only genre Bandits doesn't seem to hit is horror and westerns. This is a shame, for the film has some winning performances and funny lines—it's just too bad the writer didn't stick with one theme and run with it. The plot seems almost secondary to the idea of being offbeat. I guess someone thought that it would be funny if Terry and Joe were…well, nice bank robbers. This premise sort of sets up many of the one-liners and jokes that permeate the film. But that premise can only take the film so far.
Personally, I liked the idea of bank robbers kidnapping the managers the night before, then breaking into the banks. This had many promising opportunities. The film decided to exploit only a few of these situations to minimal effect. There's a funny scene where a bank manager's wife has dinner with the bandits, weeping and moaning as Terry bustles about how good her pasta sauce is. When one of her daughters proudly burps, the mother shoots back "We have guests…sort of." Moments like these made me think Bandits could have been much more than the sum of its parts.
The player who gets the most mileage out of this screenplay is Billy Bob Thornton. Continuing to amaze me with each character he inhabits, Thornton has many a funny moment, most of them having to do with the fact that he is a hypochondriac and a paranoid nut. Everything freaks him out, including antique furniture. Bruce Willis' Joe, while not as engaging as Thornton's Terry, is above par than the usual Willis stock schmucks. Sporting stringy long hair and his killer smirk, Willis treads a fine line between his usual cocky characters (i.e., every action flick he's been in) and his more pensive, in-depth characters in movies like Nobody's Fool and The Sixth Sense. Cate Blanchett is also fine in her role as the woman who comes between the two friends, though much like the movie her character seems almost too quirky for her own good—I didn't buy the idea that she'd just up and leave her life to go hang out with notorious bank robbers.
I can't really think of much else to say about Bandits. This movie doesn't require much introspection or thought. In fact, the best word that comes to mind is "fluffy." Bandits is fluffy, insubstantial entertainment. The film is entertaining in its own offbeat way, but with the exception of Thornton, all parties could have done something different (and better) with this movie, starting from the script up.
Bandits is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. MGM has done a great job at making sure that this transfer displays no imperfections or major defects. The color patterns and black levels all appear very spot-on and solid. I spotted a small amount of edge enhancement in a few areas, but otherwise this is a very nice looking print and MGM should be proud.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and Dolby 2.0 Surround in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. This is a decent 5.1 soundtrack that gives some life to this otherwise uninteresting soundtrack. Except for a few moments of action, gunfire, and music, this soundtrack is pretty low key and bland. Directional effects are utilized when needed, and the mix is clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Though this isn't a very exciting soundtrack, the 5.1 mix is sufficient for the film it's supporting. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Presented in a "special edition," Bandits is somewhat deceptive in as much as there's only a few really substantial supplements located on this disc. The first thing we get is four deleted scenes that are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen in rough form. A few of these scenes are rather interesting (especially one where a kidnap victim "opens up" to Joe about an affair), though taken as a whole I don't think they'd have added much to the final film.
The alternate ending is probably the least interesting out of all these features. Including what looks to be only one quickly added shot, the idea of this scene was to give the impression that either Joe or Terry fathered a child with Kate. However, the fact is that it really isn't that interesting, and most importantly I don't think that anyone really cares.
"Inside Bandits" is a featurette that includes interviews with writer/co-producer Harley Peyton, producer Michael Brinbaum, stars Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, and director Barry Levinson. This is actually a through look at the making of the film, starting with the inception of the story (years ago it was going to be a balls-out action movie) moving into the characterization (Billy Bob Thonton's character is mildly based on writer Peyton) to the green-lighting of the movie. This featurette runs about 20 minutes long. One of the weirdest things is watching Cate Blanchett speak in her native English accent when you've just seen her play a typical American housewife.
"Creating Scene 71" is a semi-interesting look at the evolution of a scene that involves Willis and Blanchett in bed together. This is a good example of how a scene can start off one way on the page and then make some quick turns into something else when a bunch of fingers get poked into the pie. Included in this piece are interviews with Willis, Blanchett, Levinson, Peyton, and Brinbaum.
A mish-mash of concepts and genres, Bandits fails in most areas, though it's still a movie that is worth seeing if your first two rental options are gone on a Friday night. This isn't a bad movie, though it could have been oh-so-much more.
Bandits is slapped with a $100 fine for being too schizophrenic. MGM is also fined for calling this a "special edition" when it's really just a normal edition with one or two more extra features than usual.
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