Two Bandits pull off a bizarre bank heist
Bandits is the kind of movie that gives escapism a good name. It opens with Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton escaping from prison in a concrete-mixer truck, and while they're tootin' on down the highway at, oh, 40 miles per hour, you think to yourself, "Well, I haven't quite seen that one before." An odd-couple pairing, Willis' Joe and Thornton's Terry are bank robbers who complete each other ' Joe a low-key ruffian with an eye for the ladies, Terry a high-strung hypochondriac with an eye for the Merck Manual. (He owns a cassette copy.) And between the two of them, they've come up with a brilliant scheme: They drop in at a bank president's house the night before a robbery, hold the whole family hostage and then escort the president to the bank early the next morning to relieve the financial institution of its deposits. Oh, and they adopt ridiculous disguises, which doesn't include one of Willis' least-convincing hairpieces. (That's supposed to be real!)
Like a remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Siegfried and Roy, Bandits coasts along amiably, leaving plenty of time to explore its characters' personality quirks. Thornton's Terry is a wonderful grab bag of imaginary symptoms, culminating in a slow dance at a bar that finally leaves him rolling around on the floor like a hooked fish. But Willis' Joe is the movie's real wild card, the "Moonlighting" smirk suddenly turning cold and distant, which is the signal for everyone else to run and hide. We might have been content to follow these two down the California coast, dropping in at banks with premonitory names like San Andreas and Alamo, but the filmmakers have an O. Henry twist in store for us. Her name is Kate (Cate Blanchett), and her marriage is so miserable that she's almost too eager to be taken hostage by the guys now known as the Sleepover Bandits. The question is, who will she sleep over with?
It's not like the fate of the earth hangs on the answer to that question, but the movie certainly gets a lot of mileage out of it. Blanchett, who gradually transformed her face into a mask in Elizabeth, does the opposite here. Her face ' heavy on the blue eye shadow and ringed with fiery red hair ' is an open book, and that book's title is Love Me Now. Director Barry Levinson lets his three leads have the run of the place; you sense a lot of improvisation. And for once the freedom pays off, the actors bouncing off one another beautifully. Bandits is maybe a half-hour too long, and it almost doesn't matter which scenes you take out, so aimlessly does the movie make its way to its big finale in Los Angeles. But if you started eliminating scenes, we might miss Willis knocking over a bank with a magic marker or Thornton quietly cutting up a kid's spaghetti during one of those night-before meals with the family. These guys wouldn't hurt a fly, but they would make off with its crumbs.