Bandits is filled with witty diologue. It's original, has sense of humor and two very likable lead characters. It has a lot going for it, gets us hooked early and moves at a rapid pace.
But unfortunately there is a slowdown, when an unnecessary love interest element is thrown in -- and from that point on -- the film diverges from its promising beginning.
Bandits wastes no time in getting going. In a Salem, Oregon prison, an inmate named Joe (Bruce Willis) walks up to a cement truck, roughs up the driver, gets in the vehicle, picks up his friend Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) and begins his getaway.
These beginning scenes are fun to watch. Joe acts fast. He knows he has to change vehicles and do it often.
How does Joe get rid of the cement truck after ditching the prison guards? He leaves it in a suburban neighborhood, of course. He then flags down the nearest car, tells the driver to get out and then before driving away with Terry, gives the lady back her purse she left in her car as if he was some kind of good and honest Samaritan.
Joe comes across as sly, smooth and if he wasn't wearing an inmate's uniform, one might guess he was the kind of person who would play Santa Clause and ring a bell for the Salvation Army.
After the two realize they need money, Joe robs a bank with a yellow highlighter, makes another clever getaway with Terry, then the two come up with a plan. They will kidnap bank executives one night, then rob their bank the next morning. Their plan works, the two become known as the sleepover bandits and end p attracting massive media attention.
At this point, I had already laughed several times. One of the best scenes takes place when Joe and Terry kidnap one bank executive and join his family for dinner. Joe sits next to the banker, asking important questions pertaining to the next morning's robbery. Terry meanwhile gets involved in a dinner conversation with the executive's emotional wife.
"I'm sort of a cook myself," he tells her. "I like to use sugar in my spaghetti sauce to dilute the acidity."
The spontaneousness of the scene reaches an even higher level because the conversation gets interrupted when one the executive's children belches so loud that I'd bet she could take on any cast member from The Revenge of the Nerds in a challenge.
It's a pretty funny scene, with unexpected diologue, and that's why the best parts in Bandits are worthwhile. They show us things we haven't seen before.
Along for the ride are two side characters, one much more interesting the than the other. Joe's cousin Harvey (Troy Garity), who aspires to be a stuntman, is the getaway driver. He's usually lighting himself on fire or throwing himself off buildings. The character brings a lot of laughs to the film and is a good compliment to Willis and Thornton.
The other supporting role belongs to Cate Blanchett, who gets thrown into the film as Kate, an executive's wife who just wants to go somewhere to fit in. Blanchett is a talented actress (Pushing Tin, The Gift), but here she plays a role that's a distraction to the film. Her scenes aren't funny and there isn't a whole lot of substance in the love triangle between her, Willis and Thornton. It's almost as if there's only room for one side kick and the stuntman cousin seems to fit that piece of the puzzle better.
It's a shame that Bandits takes a wrong turn with Blanchett's role because the film is really ingenious at times.
Willis and Thornton play well off of each other and this just might be Thornton's best role since Sling Blade.
If this film were a bank robbery, director Barry Levinson (Rainman), would come short of pulling it off.
It starts with a clever plan, has most of the elements to carry it out, but in the end, Bandits gets caught.
**** Bandits is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, language and violence.