Bandits review

Movie Rule #137: The longer Bruce Willis' hair is in a film, the worse it generally is. The Whole Nine Yards? Color Of Night? Bonfire Of The Vanities? Hairpiece central.

Unbreakable? Twelve Monkeys? Pulp Fiction? Bald as a coot. It should be telling, then, that in Bandits, Mr Bruce's hair length is all over the place, either wispily draped over his shoulders or cut and tucked under a(nother) wig or hat. The conclusion? We have a movie that, over two hours, swerves from the brilliant to theabsurd and back again. Several times.

The problem is, while the central trio are excellent characters whose comi-dramatic interplay is handled perfectly by the three leads (Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett), the plot displays the same scant regard for realism as your average Bond movie. Which is fine, if you know you're watching a Bond movie, but badly out of whack when blended with some superbly studied character development.

The opening prison breakout, for example, simply involves Joe (Willis) and Terry (Thornton) jumping into a truck and driving out the front gates. The guards don't shoot out the tyres, only a few cops take pursuit and no chopper is sent up to keep track of the fugitives.

The story demands that our two anti-heroes have to get out of jail - and the screenwriter isn't about to let feasibility get in the way. That said, there are plenty of clever touches to compensate. Like Joe's use of a magic marker to hold up a bank, or Terry's idea that the best way to pull off a job is to visit the managers the night before, and hold them and their families hostage. Stage two of the plan is that they all go to the bank the next morning and are let into the vaults (hence their media moniker "The Sleepover Bandits").

Ultimately it's the love triangle that makes Bandits' better moments so enjoyable. Messrs Bruce and Billy Bob make a cracking double act, the former all brawn and ladykilling charm, the latter all brains and hypochondria ("I have sanitation issues"). They are utterly convincing compadres, encouraging the no-doubt-desired Butch and Sundance comparisons. Blanchett's Kate, meanwhile, enters their lives "like an iceberg waiting for the Titanic", and although her transition from teary victim to robber's moll is rather sudden, Blanchett's an astute enough thesp to make Kate's intrusion a welcome one.

It's clear that director Barry Levinson and scriptwriter Harley Peyton were so enamoured of their characters that plot became a secondary consideration. Which makes for a patchy tale and a very sloppy climax. Still if you share Levinson and Peyton's attraction, this is a minor quibble rather than a major flaw.

If you're prepared to overlook a few daft plot gaps in this good-natured crime caper, you'll be treated to some wonderful interplay among the three leads. Okay, it's a bit of a mess, but at least it's an entertaining one.

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