Barry Levinson has been directing films for 20 years, long enough to have collected an Oscar for Rain Man and to have made the seminal comedies Diner (his 1981 debut) and Good Morning Vietnam. In Bandits, Levinson marries comedy, buddy road movie and bank robbery, filmed in 60 locations in Oregon and California. It’s not your usual combination and what’s more, he wanted actors not always identified with romantic, comedic roles, so we have Cate Blanchett playing the bored housewife, Billy Bob Thornton playing the hypochondriac thinker and Bruce Willis as the action man (no surprises there).
Although Bandits is too long, initially slow in its build-up and quite formulaic, it is entertaining in an old-fashioned sort of way. Bandits was one of the films Cate squeezed in before she became too pregnant and it is one of her more convincing roles. In many ways, Blanchett steals the film as the unloved housewife whose theme song is Total Eclipse Of The Heart as sung by Bonnie Tyler. Billy Bob is great as the foil, hyper most of the time, who believes the hardest thing about being smart is you know what’s going to happen. Bruce Willis is less convincing; he just can’t lighten up and drags the film away from being really screwball. Relative newcomer Troy Garity, who appeared in Australian Michael Rymer’s Perfume, is pure slapstick as the wannabe stuntman, getaway driver who can’t keep his eyes off the chicks.
This is a better American road movie than the usual fare that has been dished up to us lately. Levinson has a go at Hollywood’s obsession with pyrotechnics and tries to pepper the film with light-hearted wit and repartee. Although Willis isn’t entirely convincing, he is still offbeat enough to make the film seem quirky. Billy Bob’s 20-plus costume changes add to the hilarity. Light entertainment if you want it.