on October 12, 2001 by Bridget Byrne
Life is full of surprises. Movies rarely are, especially these days. But "Bandits" manages to surprise, delight and charm. It's just a caper, but its plusses well outweigh its minuses. Its headliners possess character actors' skills and star-power shine. Its director keeps balance between all the vital ingredients--the humor and the action, the personal drama and the plot, the sense of movie lore in general and his original film in particular. There is something old, something new, something borrowed, but, refreshingly, not something blue, about this action comedy. It moves from light to dark, from flash-and-crash to sweet and intimate, but avoids the crassness and vulgarity, the heavy-handed explicitness, which dominates most Hollywood product.

It is mainstream, but that doesn't mean it's one-dimensional. It doesn't pretend to teach or preach but that doesn't mean that it doesn't contain some amusing insights into modern culture--the obsession with crime, instant celebrity, the transference of real feelings on to the stuff of dreams, the way popular music and movies have imbedded themselves so tightly into the fabric of life. Overt and covert song and screen images abound throughout this road trip story.

It's glib to describe the plot as a modern "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," with some "Jules and Jim" thrown in, but the references and homage are there for the taking. This tall tale follows two escaped cons-turned-bank robbers, dubbed by the media "The Sleepover Bandits," and the glamorous housewife who becomes their consort, from hold-ups to hide-outs as their fame increases and their true emotions finally break out of their personal prisons.

The action man, Joe, the goof, Terry, and the dame, Kate, as personified by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, are allowed to run the gamut of emotions, if not quite from A to Z at least up to S--for sensationally silly, sexy, seriously sensitive, sweet, sad, scalawag, and even--at moments when tension demands it--scary. What fun these stars have, without falling into over-indulgence, as they square the circle on the eternal triangle, delight in Harley Peyton's quirky dialogue and wittily sport themselves in front of director Barry Levinson's sure eye and cinematographer Dante Spinotti's flattering lens. The plot undercuts the obvious in the characters--wry, handsome, self-involved hardball Joe, neurotic sad-sack Terry, with his overactive thought glands, flamboyant beauty Kate, both needy and withholding. All are spun around and around so that many other facets of themselves get to gleam to light. Troy Garity as Harvey, the getaway driver, is stuck with a more one-note role--although the way the dumb dude's aspiration to be a Hollywood stunt man is used as a plot device is clever and surprising.

Surprise is the driving force of this film--it reaches for it within and tries to spill it onto the screen. It meanders a bit too much along the way, but essentially it makes that leap beyond the expected. Starring Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton and Troy Garity. Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Harley Peyton. Produced by Michael Birnbaum, Michele Berk, Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein, Ashok Amritraj, David Hoberman and Arnold Rifkin. An MGM release. Action/Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, language and violence. Running time: 123 min

Tags: Starring Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, Troy Garity, Directed by Barry Levinson, Written by Harley Peyton, Produced by Michael Birnbaum, Michele Berk, Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein, Ashok Amritraj, David Hoberman, Arnold Rifkin

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