Screenplay : Harley Peyton
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Bruce Willis (Joe), Billy Bob Thornton (Terry), Cate Blanchett (Kate), Troy Garity (Harvey)
It's always a shame to see a great character in a lousy movie. It's a waste because one inspired character isn't enough to elevate the movie above its basic mediocrity, even if he or she makes it almost worth watching. And, at the same time, you can't help but wonder how even more effective the character would have been had he or she been placed in the context of a better movie.
Such is the case of Billy Bob Thornton's Terry, an anal-retentive, hypochondriac fussbudget bank robber in Barry Levinson's woefully uneven Bandits, an awkward genre concoction that is part fumbling comedy, part action movie, and part would-be media satire. Thornton's performance almost salvages the movie as a whole, even when Harley Peyton's contrived screenplay threatens to disengage us completely and Bruce Willis sinks virtually every scene he's in (which is most of the movie) by acting like he's in another movie altogether. It's an interesting case in which a buddy-movie becomes a one-man show.
The story involves Willis and Thorton's characters, Joe and Terry, who escape from prison early in the movie and set off on a series of audacious bank robberies that utilize Terry's idea of kidnapping the bank manager the night before and then using him or her to rob the bank the next morning before the guards arrive. Joe and Terry complement each other's neuroses nicely, as Joe has anger-management problems and Terry is so paranoid and nervous that he is reluctant to escape to Mexico because he has "sanitation issues." They have a third partner, Harvey (Troy Garity), who is Joe's cousin. Harvey is a dim-witted would-be Hollywood stuntman, and he too seems to have wandered in from another movie, that one being a straight-to-video comedy.
Along the way they find themselves saddled with Kate (Cate Blanchett), who introduces even more neuroses into the gang. A neglected upper-class housewife with a penchant for exotic cooking and bad '80s music, Kate is on the verge of a complete breakdown when she literally runs into Terry and then refuses to go away. This introduces the movie's weakest development, a romantic triangle among Joe, Terry, Kate in which she sleeps with both men and is then unable to decide which one she wants to stay with. Somehow, sex with both of them clears her head in a way that she becomes the movie's voice of reason while Joe and Terry sink even deeper into their own neurotic obsessions.
This is all wrapped up in a sloppy attempt at media satire and parodic stabs at the cult of celebrity via an America's Most Wanted-type news program that prominently features Joe and Terry in an interview they forced on the host. These video inserts are thrown in sporadically throughout the movie, and although they are likely intended as satirical pieces, they wind up functioning mostly as exposition to explain what Joe and Terry are doing and thinking.
Director Barry Levinson has done media satire before, badly with Jimmy Hollywood (1994) and extremely well with Wag the Dog (1997), and with Bandits he seems intent on proving that he can do it again. The screenplay by Twin Peaks alum Harley Peyton bears all the signs of having been heavily rewritten as various times, as the resulting narrative reflects too many competing tendencies and no willingness to commit fully to any of them. The way the movie blends farce and violence is awkward and ill-fitting, and while there is certain level of ambition that is almost admirable, the movie's only consistency is its maddening unevenness.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick