Bandits foiled by poor script

About an hour into Bandits, I realized I was witnessing an ingenious theft. Disguised as a clever crime comedy, Bandits tricked me into watching it, effectively stealing two hours of my time and the rest of the audience’s too.

It’s the story of two men with opposite personalities, who after escaping from prison, discover a clever way to successfully rob banks. After gaining infamy across the country, they kidnap and fall in love with the same woman, which we all know is never a smart move. To make it work and escape the police, the robbers pull a grand, bullet-riddled stunt at the end.

With strong talent such as Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton and Cate Blanchett, the acting is not surprisingly the best part of Bandits. Shamefully, the talent is wasted on stupid characters. Willis plays Bank Robber number one, a coarse, slimy, wild guy named Joe. Apparently, women find old men with long, greasy hair attractive, so Willis gets to play the heart-throb. Oh Brad Pitt, where are you when we need you?

Thorton plays Bank Robber number two, a weak, but sensitive and smart man named Terry. As a man who jumps at his own shadow and is apparently afraid of everything, he somehow survived the prison where he and Joe met and strangely has no qualms with armed robbery. He’s funny, but in a weird way.

Cate Blanchett plays Kate, a woman who runs down Terry with her shiny new luxury sedan. She’s taken hostage by the robbers, but becomes their lover and eventually their accomplice. She hates her husband, so it’s justifiable that she can be a criminal, because her husband’s an asshole.

While the story is strange, the way it’s told is even worse. The two methods of framing add to the convoluted feel. First, it’s spun with footage from the end shoot-out, at a bank subtly called the Alamo. Second, it’s narrated through a documentary done on the robbers by a crime show. Director Barry Levinson should have picked just one method. The clips are woven in so intermittently that when they occur, it’s an unexpected surprise that only serves to interrupt the action.

At one point, Terry says he hates being smart, because it ruins all the suspense. He always knows what’s going to happen next. Funny, that’s just how I felt and that must make me smart. Granted, if you don’t know how Joe’s stuntman cousin will fit into the end scenes, you’re an idiot. If you can’t guess the finale 20 minutes into the film, you haven’t been paying attention.

The characters are weird, the story lacks suspense and it’s all implausible, but somehow, Bandits manages to be funny. Terry, Joe and Kate are all crazy, and watching is fun. Keep in mind, however, that the humour is the only saving grace, before you let them steal your money and your time.

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