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Movie Review

After busting out of prison in a cement mixer, an impulsive bruiser (Joe) and his brainy hypochondriac buddy (Terry) embark on a series of armed bank robberies. The congenial pair’s modus operandi is unique: They don goofy disguises, kidnap bank managers at home the night before the heist, accompany them to work the next morning and empty the vault. Known as "The Sleepover Bandits," Joe and Terry develop a cult following. Their ultimate goal is to steal enough money to buy an Acapulco nightclub, a festive hideaway known for its tuxedoes and margaritas. The guys invite a young dullard named Harvey to be their getaway driver. He’s a loose-lipped cowboy with dreams of becoming a Hollywood stunt man/special effects artist.

Then the motley crew grows to four. Shortly after a bank job, circumstances force Terry to "kidnap" Kate, a bored, frustrated housewife desperate for passion and adventure. She’s trapped in a loveless marriage and reduced to finding companionship in heartrending Bonnie Tyler tunes. Before long, she’s more of a willing accomplice than a hostage. She sleeps with Joe and Terry on separate occasions, creating a crack in the partnership as the two cordial desperados vie for her affection. The group robs its way from Oregon to Texas, accumulating wealth and fame, and leaving behind them a wake of salivating media types who aren’t quite sure whether Kate is a victim or a criminal. The bandits eventually arrive at their Alamo. Since most of the film is told in flashback, opening scenes indicate a tragic, final showdown with police, but it remains to be seen if this modern-day James Gang can beat those seemingly insurmountable odds.

positive elements: On several occasions, there actually is honor among thieves. During a tenuous getaway, Kate convinces Joe to risk capture and go back for his stranded partner. An attempt to absolve Kate from guilt is noble (unfortunately, to do so Joe and Terry lie about her involvement). Before driving off in a car they’re stealing, Joe takes a moment to hand the owner her purse, indicating that these millennial Robin Hoods have no ill will toward individuals, but want to strike back at what they believe is a corrupt system by making off with federally insured funds ("The government just steals money from people and we take it back from them"). Of course, such theft is in no way justifiable, but this behavior does demonstrate a lack of malice and indiscriminate victimization. They never actually shoot anyone. They’re kind to the wife and children of a bank manager (Terry puts them at ease with casual conversation). Indeed, Joe and Terry are usually polite to people, even when waving guns in their faces. But as one matronly bank manager accurately points out, "Good manners are no excuse for criminal behavior."

spiritual content: Joe mentions having read the Tao, a source of Eastern philosophy that deals with morality and the organizing principle of the universe.

sexual content: Teens are interrupted during a make-out session. Joe talks about spending most of his cut from an early robbery on a wild fling with a Scandinavian beauty. Joe and Kate share a bed divided by a blanket à la It Happened One Night, though the blanket soon comes down and the two grope and kiss passionately (sex is implied). Later, Kate reports that she and Joe hardly left the hotel room during a two-week hiatus from robbing banks. Kate sleeps with Terry (not shown), forming a love triangle in which the audience is supposed to choose sides and decide who they want to see end up with Kate. Of course, the answer should be neither since she’s a married woman, but to these filmmakers, adultery isn’t so much as a momentary, guilt-inducing technicality. It’s a total non-issue. Refusing to choose between Joe and Terry, Kate defends her indecisiveness by saying, "The heart is a mysterious organ, and it plays by its own rules." Actually, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

violent content: Joe takes a cheap shot from a sparring partner at the prison gym and proceeds to pummel the guy. He knocks out a prison guard during his escape. Guards shoot at Joe and Terry during their getaway. Joe drags a reluctant driver out of his car (the driver picks up a gun and fires at them, blowing out the rear window). Kate first encounters Terry by accidentally hitting him with her car while he’s trying to flag her down. He initially feels the best way to handle Kate is to "Shoot her! Bury her body in the woods" (fortunately, Joe rejects this proposal). There are several violent car crashes. Joe and Terry get into a fistfight that sends them sprawling through a plate-glass window. [Major Spoiler Warning] In the climactic scene, Bandits takes a page from films such as The Sting, Swordfish, Life, etc. by faking the deaths of the main characters in order to help them escape an impossible situation. It does so by having Joe and Terry shoot each other "dead" as part of an unannounced stunt which involves Harvey pulling a little special effects magic that makes the bloody bullet wounds look real.

crude or profane language: More than 40 profanities, including a handful of s-words and about 20 exclamatory uses of the Lord’s name.

drug and alcohol content: Men drink beer on several occasions. Kate downs a shot of whisky at a bar.

other negative elements: A medical expert can be heard describing, in graphic detail, a vaginal disorder (Terry repeats it later for comic effect).

conclusion: I hate feeling manipulated into rooting for bad people. Bandits does a very good job of making ignoble characters sympathetic, inspiring viewers to side with three criminals and one adulteress, while jeering local law enforcement. How? It’s tempting to want Joe and Terry to find their paradise, so we buy into the notion that they’re really nice guys who’ve simply made an inappropriate career choice (the film conveniently forgets to tell us why these "nice" guys were in prison in the first place). As for the love triangle, we’re encouraged to write off the husband entirely and get invested in Joe and Terry’s rivalry. We feel the emotional abandonment Kate experiences in her marriage, and want her to feel loved. Yet the Bible says, "Thou shall not steal" and "Thou shall not commit adultery." Period. Audiences also get that time-honored denouement suggesting that crime pays.

Artistically, Bandits combines elements of drama and comedy in an appealing way. The writing is strong. Solid performances emerge from the movie’s three principals—all Oscar nominees. In short, expect this modern Western to perform well at the box office, despite its profanity, moderate violence and sexual situations. Let’s just hope those who check it out aren’t taken hostage by the moral ambiguity and dubious rationalization that runs through the picture.

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Bruce Willis as Joe; Billy Bob Thornton as Terry; Cate Blanchett as Kate; Troy Garity as Harvey


Barry Levinson ( )





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Bob Smithouser

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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