THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Sometimes it takes a lot of talent to make a bad movie. Bandits is a perfect case in point. The film has three actors, all of whom have been exceptionally good in other movies. It was directed by Barry Levinson, whose credits include Rainman, Wag the Dog, and Good Morning, Vietnam. It has a promising story, thanks to screenwriter Harley Payton. And despite all this talent, Bandits is one of the very worst films of the year. It's depressing to watch so many good people trapped on a sinking ship of a movie.

Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play Joe Blake and Terry Collins, the "most successful bank robbers in United States history." They are known in the media as the "sleepover bandits" because of their modus operandi: kidnap the bank manager the night before, sleep over at his house, and accompany him to the bank in the morning. The only good scene in the movie has them at the dinner table with one manager and his family; the man's poor wife can hardly keep from crying, even as the uninvited guests try their best to make her comfortable.

Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis debate Cate Blanchett's trustworthiness in Bandits
After one of their robberies, Joe and Terry agree to meet up again at a cabin in the woods. On his way there, Terry runs out of gas and starts walking. He is hit by a car driven by Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett), an unhappily married woman looking for adventure. She convinces Joe and Terry to take her along on their escapades. Soon, both men have fallen for her. And she, in turn, has fallen for both of them. Terry understands her quirks, including a bizarre fear of black-and-white movies, while Joe is able to quote lyrics to that sappy old Bonnie Tyler song "Total Eclipse of the Heart." (Yes, that is basically the summation of her attraction to both men.) The movie follows this love triangle through several more robberies, leading up to a conclusion that you can see coming five minutes into the story.

Bandits wants to be offbeat in a Coen brothers sort of way, but it's more stupid than clever. For example, Joe and Terry say they want to be inconspicuous when they rob banks, but the screenplay puts them in one ridiculous, attention-getting "disguise" after another. Other things are shoved into the movie just to pay off later. It hardly seems coincidental that Joe's cousin is a Hollywood stuntman with a talent for faking gun battles and car wrecks. Every detail seems to be an act of manipulation on the part of the filmmakers. It's like they are substituting eccentricity for story.

Maybe some of this would have been tolerable if the performances had been better. The three leads seem to have been given only one emotion to play. Kate is quirky, and Terry is hypochondriacal; Joe allegedly has an anger management problem, although Willis plays him with that trademark bemused smirk, so he never seems truly threatening. These one-note characters bump up against each other repeatedly, each time producing the same result: annoyance for the audience. They don't seem real; they seem like they came here from another planet. I loathed them all and kept hoping some security guard would shoot them and put us all out of our misery. Oddball characters can work well in movies, so long as they have some dimension to them. The characters here are so devoid of anything but quirks that it's impossible to care what happens to them.

Bandits is one of those movies that feels about three times longer than it really is. There's just one unwatchable scene after another. I kept glancing at my watch, horrified to discover that only a few minutes had passed between each check. This film is just dead up on the screen. It's a great big vaccum that sucks up any possible entertainment value. And how appropriate is that title for a movie that stole two hours of my life?

( out of four)

Bandits is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, language and violence. The running time is 2 hour and 3 minutes.
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