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DVD Reviews for 1/12: Hurray--You Can FInally See "Idiocracy"!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic . . .who am I kidding. I know you are staring at the "Bandidas" cover at this moment and Lord knows I can't say that I blame you.

Faithful readers of this column–I can only hope that such people exist–may have noticed that while I generally try to cover the vast majority of the new DVD releases every week, heavily hyped items and oddball obscurities alike, I generally tend to avoid spending too much time on direct-to-video product. While I could argue that this is because I only have so much time and space to dedicate to these articles or because I try to keep my exposure to the works of Steven Seagal as limited as possible, the real reason is basically one of snobbery–if these movies were any good, in my thinking, they would have gotten some kind of theatrical release in the first place. Nine times out of ten, this assumption holds up but every once in a while, a perfectly good movie, through no fault of its own, will somehow slip through the cracks and wind up in DTV purgatory alongside the likes of “Snakes on a Train” or whatever Tanya Roberts is up to these days.

This week sees the release of just such a film in “Bandidas,” a genially silly comedy-western that 20th Century Fox decided not to bestow a theatrical release upon last year despite the presence of such high-profile participants as writer-producer Luc Besson and co-stars Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. You might think that this combination of elements–hell, just the poster itself–would be intriguing enough to viewers to earn it at least a token theatrical release. However, Fox thought differently and decided to dump it on video so they could spend their time and money on releasing such critical and popular favorites as “Tristan & Isolde” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and figuring out new ways to stick it to Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy.” It’s a shame because while no one will be proclaiming “Bandidas” a masterpiece of modern cinema anytime soon, it is an amiable goof of a film that is far more entertaining than its second-class status might lead you to believe.

Set in Mexico during the days of the Old West, the film begins as sleazy Tyler Jackson (Dwight Yoakim), a representative of American banking interests, begins a violent land grab in a peaceful Mexican town where a railroad may be passing through. Among those affected are Maria (Cruz), an impulsive farm girl whose father is wounded while protecting his land, and Sara (Hayek), a spoiled rich girl whose father is murdered by Jackson after collaborating with him to buy up the town cheap. Before too long (and this is one of those films where everything happens before too long), Maria and Sara each decide to begin robbing Jackson’s banks for different reasons–budding revolutionary Maria wants to redistribute the money to the townspeople that is has been stolen from while Sara merely wants revenge for her loss–and wind up teaming up. After receiving lessons in the finer points of bank robbery from an expert thief (Sam Shepard), the two pull off a string of successful robberies that threaten Jackson’s deals. In response, he sends for Quentin Cook (Steve Zahn), a geeky New York detective who is a proponent of the new investigative procedure of the scientific method, to crack the case. Before long, however, Quentin aligns himself with Maria and Sara–partly because he feels they are doing a good thing and partly because the two like using him as a subject when they debate the proper way to kiss a man.

As I said, “Bandidas” is hardly the most profound film in the world–to describe it as “fluff” would be to lend it a weight and gravity that it simply doesn’t have–and at its core, it is little more than a revamp of Louis Malle’s 1965 film “Viva Maria!,” another romp that combine western-style hijinks, revolutionaries and a pair of indescribably sexy leading ladies (Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau) prancing around in skimpy outfits while blowing things up , with a healthy dollop of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” thrown in for good measure. That said, it moves quickly enough, has some reasonably exciting action sequences (including one bank job that appears to be a simultaneous homage/spoof of both “Mission: Impossible” and “Hudson Hawk”) and a nice sense of humor about itself. Of course, the best part of the film is the funny and spirited on-screen by-play between Hayek and Cruz–the two of them are clearly having a blast throughout and that sense of fun comes through in every scene.

Considering the fact that Fox showed so little interest in “Bandidas” that even the brief plot description on the back cover contains one glaring error, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that the DVD isn’t exactly overflowing with bonus material–there is a commentary track with Hayek and Cruz (which I know I will be playing in an endless loop as I slumber) and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. Of course, I suspect that many of you reading this are less interested in the bonus features and more curious as to the number of what could be euphemistically referred to as The Good Parts. Alas, while the PG-13 rating means that the Parts aren’t as Good as one might hope (the nudity promised in the MPAA warning is due to a shot of Steve Zahn’s bare hinder), there are at least three scenes that should more than satisfy those viewers.

1. The aforementioned kissing demonstration, which Hayek and Cruz bravely enact while wearing the flimsiest lingerie imaginable.

2. A Hayek-Cruz catfight inside a church that includes Cruz being dunked into the holy water.

3. Best of all, a not-at-all-gratuitous bit in which we discover that part of Shepard’s training process involves Hayek and Cruz doing push-ups in a stream.

Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen. Directed by Joachim Roenning & Espen Sandberg. Starring Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, Dwight Yoakim and Sam Shepard.


BROKEN BRIDGES (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.99): In a film that could have easily been called “Shut Up and Sing,” redneck icon Toby Keith plays a washed-up country singer who returns to his hometown after a tragedy and finds himself mending fences with his old girlfriend (Kelly Preston) and the rebellious daughter (Lindsay Huan) he never knew he had. Obviously hoping to cash in on the chemistry that transformed “The Dukes of Hazzard” into box-office gold, the film also brings in Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds for added measure.

CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN (Hart Sharp Video. $24.98): If Brian De Palma had somehow gotten the job of directing “Before Sunset,” the results might have been a little like this decidedly odd art-house favorite in which a man and a woman (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) meet at a wedding and spend one long night together discussing their past relationship while speculating on what the present and future might bring. At time, the split-screen conceit is a little too preciously symbolic for its own good but the strong performances by Eckhart and Bonham Carter make it worth checking out just the same.

CRANK (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $28.98): The premise of this amped-up riff on the old chestnut “D.O.A.”–in which Jason Statham plays a hired killer who has been poisoned by a rival and is forced to continually jack up his adrenaline levels to delay the inevitable long enough to get revenge–is so intriguing that you wish that an expert in whacked-out action, someone like Ronnie Yu, Tsui Hark or Luc Besson, had been hired to give it the kind of over-the-top treatment that it deserves. In the hands of newcomers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, it never quite lives up to its promise and quickly wears out its welcome despite a few inventive moments scattered here and there (especially the hilarious and oddly poetic final sequence).

EXTRAS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Video. $29.98): How does one go about creating a follow-up to one of the funniest sitcoms ever made? In the case of Ricky Gervais, whose previous effort was a little thing called “The Office,” you simply sit down and create another show that is just as smart and clever and funny. In this series, created for HBO, he plays a struggling actor yearning to break out of the background and become a front-and-center star. In a clever bit that also demonstrates the respect that the real Gervais has in the industry, such real-life celebrities as Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart and Kate Winslet make self-parodying cameos–the bit in which Winslet explains that she is doing a Holocaust-related film simply because such a role practically guarantees the Oscar is the comedic high point in this collection of six episodes and numerous deleted scenes.

IDIOCRACY (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): For reasons never adequately explained, Fox decided to take this hilarious sci-fi comedy–in which ordinary dope Luke Wilson is frozen as part of an army experiment and wakes up in a future America so dumbed-down that he is by far the smartest person alive–and dump it in a handful of theaters without any sort advertising to alert people that it was the latest work from Mike Judge, the creator of “Beavis & Butthead” and the cult favorite “Office Space.” Considering the ways in which Fox has screwed Judge over in the past regarding this project, it will be interesting to see how they go about screwing up the release of the DVD (which only contains a few deleted scenes for extras–alas, no Judge commentary to explain what happened)–maybe all the DVD cases will actually contain copies of the old edition of “Superman III” instead of the movie people actually paid for.

THE ILLUSIONIST (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): This oddly miscast and dramatically inert drama, involving a mysterious magician (Edward Norton) who runs afoul of the Crown Prince of Vienna (Rufus Sewell) and the local police chief (Paul Giamatti) with his strange illusions and his relationship with a childhood sweetheart (Jessica Biel) who has become the prince’s fiancee, defied the odds and became a sleeper hit last summer for reasons that elude me. My suggestion is to give this one a pass and wait for 2006's other trippy turn-of-the-century magician melodrama, Christopher Nolan’s brilliant “The Prestige,” to hit DVD in a few weeks. If you can’t wait or you were one of those who enjoyed this in the theater, this disc contains a commentary with director Neil Burger, a short behind-the-scenes documentary and a featurette entitled “Jessica Biel on The Illusionist,” which probably isn’t half as fun as the title makes it sound.

THE NIGHT LISTENER (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): Robin Williams stars as a depressed radio host whose life is turned upside-down when he becomes involved in the life of a young listener whose harrowing life story may not be all that it appears. In other words, this is the 2006 Robin Williams film that is patently unfunny and unrelentingly dour on purpose.

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originally posted: 01/12/07 16:20:57
last updated: 01/13/07 08:59:16
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