Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:02 - Released 10/12/01

From director Barry Levinson comes Bandits, a thoroughly enjoyable romantic caper comedy about a pair of "odd couple" bank robbers whose long but tumultuous friendship is threatened when they both fall in love with their willing but emotionally unbalanced female hostage. It stars Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett as the members of this uncomfortable and crime-enhanced love triangle, and they all give engaging performances, imbuing their quirky characters with all manner of psychological issues uncommon in traditional crime stories. Also responsible for the film's success is writer Harley Peyton, whose choice to start at the end and use flashbacks to tell the story, carefully giving us only certain details along the way, leads to a clever and immensely satisfying twist ending. Peyton, whose past screenplays have been criticized for being overcomplicated (Keys to Tulsa), has apparently learned how to simplify, because Bandits works as a well-rounded, character-driven story with a minimum of excess fat.

We first find our heroes, fiery and recklessly impulsive Joe Blake (Willis) and intelligent OCD sufferer and hypochondriac Terry Collins (Thornton), a.k.a. the "sleepover bandits," in the midst of a badly deteriorating raid on the Alamo Bank in Los Angeles, which, as it turns out, is the last job they'll ever do. Although they have succeeded many times before and become nationally famous for their polite demeanor and their unconventional habit of spending the night at the bank manager's home before each robbery, this one's not going well at all. With the LAPD and SWAT teams accumulating outside the building and a successful escape looking more and more unlikely, they begin bickering about each other's role in their downfall, and specifically about whose decision it was to let Kate (Blanchett) join the team. It is Kate, you see, who turned them in to the cops.

At this point we leave the scene and begin learning the boys' history, both through flashbacks and by seeing bits of a nationally syndicated interview they gave the night before the ill-fated Alamo robbery. We see first their daring escape from prison, their joint fantasy of retiring to Acapulco to open a night club, and their decision to "sleep over" before each robbery and force the manager to let them in the bank before it opens, avoiding the complications caused by the presence of employees and customers. After a few such jobs, they begin to achieve local notoriety. But then they meet Kate. A depressed woman trapped in a loveless marriage, Kate is accidentally abducted by Terry and is forced to stay with the bandits for one night at their hideout. Recognizing them and becoming enthralled by the danger of the situation, she soon falls in love with both men, each for different reasons. However, her involvement as a sort of modern-day Patty Hearst, and the continuing coverage of the TV news show Criminals At Large, elevates the bandits' fame to national standing, which puts a serious hamper on their ability to do their job.

These three actors are all remarkably enjoyable in their roles, with Willis essentially playing straight to Thornton's and Blanchett's neuroses; each of them is developed with enough depth to be funny characters without giving the film the sense of a full-blown comedy. The three have a tendency to ground each other, resulting in a peculiarly elegant chemistry. Also noticeable is the surprisingly nice camera work by two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential, The Insider). While Bandits doesn't have the level of character Levinson achieved in his debut, 1982's Diner, it will still serve.

Get it? ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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