Traces the lives and ultimate
fates of a doomed quartet.

Cinema Signal:

Digital & Photographic Art

. "Bandits"

Here's a comedy that marks out its own original variations on themes of triangular love affairs, bank robberies and criminal characters. There's no detail of these themes left as generic commonplace. Every move and utterance is contrived to mine the whacky possibilities of greed, love and loyalty, not necessarily in that order. It's whimsical, charming, funny and hangs by a thread to plausibility.

It takes a team like this to pull it off, starting with a random opportunity for Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) to make a daring and successful escape from prison with paranoid sidekick Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) attaching himself to the escapade like an unwilling jellyfish. But, that's all right since it's Terry who comes up with the masterful idea to rob banks by spending the night at the bank manager's home, regaling the family with yarns and exploits while waiting for the morning bank opening.

This strategy proves wildly successful, what with the fate of the bank managers' families in the hands of the dynamic duo. And, then, when Terry is having some difficulty with his car and needs a way to return to the hideout, he meets up with Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) who is temporarily fleeing her awful life of discontent in a fabulous house on a lake with a rich husband who is so numb to her uniqueness and spirit he puts an iceberg to shame. What started out as a temporary reprieve, however, turns into a life's purpose when she meets Joe and learns that these two are the now famous folk heroes, "The Sleepover Bandits".

What ensues is as unique in the annals of romance as a shoe with two heels, but that's just the style of the pic. It takes a director with a good hard grasp on character to flirt at the edges of believability as does Barry Levinson ("Tin Men", "Rain Man", "Diner") who here plays it all in the service of a comedy whose humor derives from character and a set of motivations that are, at best, innimitable, at worst, unsuccessful.

Willis, who has previously shown how he's made for the humorous through his penchant for the subtext of irony and innuendo, is in his element. With a filmography like his you can find a few failures, but think "The Fifth Element", the "Die Hard" series and "Pulp Fiction" to see how well he tends to handle this kind of character. His capability is to stretch the envelope of credulity, allowing for behavior and thought that in lesser sensibilities would come out preposterous, and sometimes in his, as well.

Billy Bob Thornton, on the second point of the love triangle, can certainly handle the intellectual aspect of character inspired comedy, bleeding the text for all the hidden corpuscles of hilarity. His qualities as a romantic lead, however, are absent. Where Willis has no problem playing attractive to the other sex, Thornton, his real-life wife notwithstanding, is challenged to pull it off. When the script has Cate Blanchett falling for him, disbelief somehow enters the picture, at least for this squirming member of the audience.

Then, there's the lovely, captivating and zany Cate, who wowed us as the queen in "Elizabeth", as the incisive Meredith Logue in "The Talented Mr. Ripley", and the spiritual psychic in "The Gift". She's an actress with a wide range and here proves her comedic chops with energetic outrageousness.

All in all, its the style of the comedy that's noteworthy here and praise goes to writer harley Peyton for pulling it off with enough that works to make it darn worth seeing. What doesn't work at times, are buddy moments that intend to inspire thoughts of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", an almost inevitable comparison, and moments that stretch the boundaries of credulity a little too far. Nevertheless, if one takes it for what it's intended to be, a lark and a romp, the effect is marvelous fun and will leave you feeling entertained by a trio of exemplary actors in a verbosely hilarious piece of work.

The soundtrack is a disparate collection of artists, including material from Bob Dylan, Bonnie Tyler and Tanita Tikaram. The Dylan track is "Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee", fresh off his newest album, "Love and Theft". Though seemingly disconnected, the songs reflect the whimsical indiosyncrasies of the heros in the yarn. We think Mr. Levinson put due thought behind his musical choices. In fact, he's a director whose work makes it clear that he ignores no aspect of his medium.

Estimated cost: $80,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $42,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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