Cinemalphabet: B is for Bandits (2000)
[If you’ve missed earlier installments of the Bruce Willis Master Class, catch up here. They will be on the final]
If you go into Bandits expecting a complicated heist caper jammed pack with pathos and twisty turns, you’ll be mildly disappointed. Bandits is not that kind of film. If you’re looking for the kind of tightly crafted story worthy of a Barry Levinson directorial stamp, you’re also going to go begging. But if you’re looking for a funny, quirky and absurdist comedy caper featuring leads with fierce chemistry having a blast working together (a la Lethal Weapon) then Bandits is for you.
The last time Billy Bob and Bruce teamed up, Bruce blasted off into space to save the world, leaving Billy Bob on earth and heartbroken. This time around, Bruce and Billy Bob are incarcerated convicts Joe and Terry who spontaneously break out of jail and hatch a plan to get to the trope-a-licious paradise housed in Mexico. If cinema is to be believed, every beachside community in Mexico is populated with nothing but tourists suffering bouts of diarrhea and criminals living in the lap of luxury.
After breaking out of jail and breaking into the house where two horny teens are given a stern lecture about appropriateness, Joe and Terry hatch a plan to rob banks by kidnapping the bank manager the night before. For this plan to work, they need to retrieve Joe’s goofy cousin Harvey (Troy Garity) who spends his time practicing stage falls and fooling around with special effects exploding blood packets.
Everything goes along well until the girl shows up; in the form of a rich, bored housewife named Kate (Cate Blanchett in one of her great accents and utilizing the Danza rule) who makes fancy dinners for her Pete Coyote-esque disengaged douchebag husband while singing Bonnie Tyler hits. Cate Blanchett is well cast as both the mutual love interest, voice of reason and occasional foil. Fleeing the boredom of her freeze dried affluence she essentially kidnaps herself, forcing the boys to take her along on their crime spree. This is the point of the review where I note the FABULOUS costumes Blanchett wears, particularly her gorgeous jade dress/mint green sweatercoat ensemble!
After meeting Kate, Joe and Terry find sleepover banditing not to be nearly as exciting as fighting over the pretty redhead who seems to like them both because in her words, “together they are the perfect man.” Wouldn’t you love to have that problem? And what an indictment of her husband when two bank robbing criminal – one neurotic and with an antique furniture phobia; the other saddled with an unfortunately obvious cheesy lacefront – are preferable to him!
The film wanders and at some points the audience has to take it on faith the film is eventually going to lead somewhere interesting. Fortunately, it does. Bruce Willis finds rich comedic depths by playing the straight man to Billy Bob’s silly, verbose, neurotic, nerdy, nervous bank robber. It’s all Willis can do to get out of Billy Bob’s way. Cate Blanchett’s character is a delightful break from her buttoned down, impeccably accented roles that dominated her career in the late 90s/early 00s. There are few moments that fail to draw the laughs Levinson’s obviously going for, but fortunately the film’s breezy pace, beautiful visuals, wry dialog and inspired plot do most of the heavy lifting. The ending, which despite being somewhat predictable, still offers a few surprises. And Bandits is worth it to see Willis sing bits of both “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Wildfire”. And who doesn’t love that pony song?