by Jason Whyte
Barry Levinson's career is one of hits and misses, from making Robin Williams crack hilarious monologues in "Good Morning Vietnam" and the great teaming of Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman in "Wag The Dog," to his lesser side of "Sphere", "Jimmy Hollywood" and 2004's worst film, "Envy". His latest film, "Bandits," is sort of a middle ground. While there are some big laughs and excellent performances here, the film is misguided, slapped together and uneven as a fifty year old highway.The premise, about the "Sleepover Bandits," is intriguing at first. Joe and Terry (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thorton), recently escaped from prison, want nothing more than to trek from Oregon to California, rob banks, and start a new life in Mexico. After robbing a few banks the old fashioned way, Terry comes along with the plan of kidnapping the bank manager the night before and robbing it before it opens. That way, no one gets hurt. Things work alright for Joe and Terry until Kate (Cate Blanchett) comes into the picture. She's a bored housewife with a moron of a husband, and becomes fascinated with the two. She wants to be a bandit too, and winds up in relationships with both Joe and Terry.
"Beavers and Ducks! Oh my..."
When Terry and Kate come together, "Bandits" takes off in an odd, likable way. It's hilarious to watch the neurosis of Terry (in one shot, he wakes up out of a nightmare yelling "Bears and Snakes!") and the conflicted Kate, who seems to be born again from meeting the two Bandits. Sadly, Joe's story is not as interesting, and the performance by Bruce Willis, while adequate, seems as stiff and clunky as Joe himself.
Levinson's style here seems to frequently intercut TV footage with the real action, which is shot very loosely and disjointed, feeling in many ways like a documentary. It doesn't work because of the ways that Levinson cuts this overlong picture together. It's slapped with bogus looking TV coverage, home video footage and, interestingly enough, some of the main story features cinematography that looks like it was shot on digital video (the end credits only quote Panavision 35mm cameras). It's also intercut with a lot of the same music used over and over again. I sat dumbfounded as U2's "Beautiful Day" kept showing up for no particular reason.I laughed a lot during "Bandits," and I admired both Cate Blanchett and Billy Bob Thorton, but I also grew weary and tired as the film progressed on. At 124 minutes, it overstays its welcome and then some. And would it have been too much for the film to be shown chronologically?
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originally posted: 06/12/04 23:34:07