Bandits (12)

AFTER years of buddy-buddy cop movies comes a funny buddy-buddy villain movie with Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as two comic bank robbers who bust out of the penitentiary almost on a whim.

Joe Blake and Terry Collins (Willis and Thornton, respectively) made a name for themselves as The Sleepover Bandits – a combination of John Dillinger and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in which Joe is the tough guy and Terry his quietly-spoken hypochondriac partner who winces whenever a gun is fired.

In a series of bad wigs and outlandish moustaches they rob a succession of small-town banks – always taking the bank manager and his family hostage the night before, with gentlemanly charm – becoming romantic national heroes on the way. Then they go and spoil it by hitching up with a frustrated wife (Cate Blanchett) who, the media assumes, is actually their hostage. She is, in fact, the love interest for both, and an iceberg waiting for any passing Titanic – in this case, Joe and Terry.

Under the firm directorial hand of Barry Levinson Bandits becomes more than just a standard Bruce Willis film, demonstrating as it does a tangible chemistry between Willis and Thornton and fine comic dexterity from Blanchett.

Nevertheless Willis attempts to deliver his standard schtick – smirks, one-liners and that recognisable Willis drawl – but is completely acted off the screen by Thornton who revels in playing the most erudite of bank robbing, car chasing, gun-toting bad guys.

Given the current Hollywood vogue for villains to get away with it (see Swordfish, Jeepers Creepers and The Fast and the Furious as examples) Bandits presents Joe and Terry as amiable enough miscreants – two halves of the same thief who, in one body, might be one mean S.O.B.

In fact the establishment of Willis as the one who bangs heads and Thornton, effortlessly stealing scenes without any of Willis’s macho posturing, as the partner ruled partly by his conscience, works exceedingly well.

That said, Willis is having fun with his image, knowing only too well that in Thornton he is faced with a screen rival several notches above the co-stars he normally shares scenes with.

Finally, Blanchett sails through the plot with the casual grace of an actress who knows how to read a funny line and how to bounce off her leading men. Equally at home with Willis’s spontaneous career thief and Thornton’s neurotic, cautious partner, she brings an element of the screwball comedies of the past to her role – Claudette Colbert to Willis’s Clark Gable.

Working from Harley Peyton’s script Levinson has delivered another comic fable which, though it lacks the spark of Diner and the rat-a-tat delivery of Good Morning, Vietnam, offers its triumvirate of stars a break from the Hollywood treadmill while remaining resolutely a commercial flick for the multiplex masses.

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