I overheard a strange sound during the middle of "Bandits". I then realized what it was - my feet tapping. I believe that, had I actually been wearing a watch, I'd have been looking firmly at it at around that point. While certainly not a terrible film overall, I couldn't help often feeling as if I'd seen "Bandits" done before - and with more energy. A dissapointment coming from director Barry Levinson, "Bandits" has an appealing begining and a somewhat okay ending, but wanders so aimlessly during its middle that it often begins to feel endless.
The film is the story of the "Sleepover Bandits", one of the most popular bank robbery teams ever in the nation's history, according to the opening sequence. As the film begins, Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry(Billy Bob Thornton) have just made a daring daylight escape from their prison stay. Once they're free and clear, they discuss their goals - to eventually open up a resort in Mexico and live free and clear. The only problem is that resorts cost money and, as criminals, they find it appropriate that they get their money from stealing from banks. Terry comes up with the idea to kidnap the bank manager, spend the night and go in early the next day before any of the customers come in.
For a while, this works well - the two start small and go onto a national level of fame, ending up on the news. Unfortunately, things begin to go downhill with the addition of Kate (Cate Blanchett), a bored housewife who runs (literally, with her car) into Terry. Tired of her dull life with a husband who doesn't care about her, she's excited about becoming one of the gang, which also includes their getaway driver, who's a wannabe stuntman. She also ends up falling for not one, but both of the bandits.
The film is apparently supposed to be a comedy, but it's only amusing in short bursts and its only humor is really from Thornton, who delivers several lines throughout the movie that are startlingly funny after sitting through slow periods. Thorton's character is a complete neurotic, consistently hearing ringing in his ears and suffering from other physical and emotional ailments. The actor plays the character perfectly, not overdoing it, which could have easily happened. Thorton also works terrifically with Willis; they feel like an odd couple who genuinely work well together and don't have to force the chemistry. Willis has previously stated that he quite enjoyed working with Thorton on director Michael Bay's "Armageddon", and that friendship is definitely apparent again here. Cate Blanchett is superb, but playing a character who could have used additional work; "Bandits" never really decides whether it wants to focus on being a caper film or a romantic comedy and, as a result, not only do both sides suffer, but Blanchett's character never quite feels essential to the film, even though she tries her hardest to give the character depth.
Thinking about "Bandits", I believe the reason I never really became invested in the picture is that the film itself never really seemed that invested in its own events. Only a few sequences involving close-call escapes provide any drama or tension. Levinson, who hasn't exactly had a fine track record as of late with "Sphere" and "Everlasting Piece", seems too pleased with the material and, as a result, the film feels unnecessarily talky and occasionally repetitive instead of pushing the plot forward at a reasonable rate. At least "Bandits" looks good, with ace cinematographer Dante Spinotti ("Family Man", many Michael Mann films) providing crisp, attractive images and often filming Blanchett in a way that makes her appear even more beautiful than she usually appears.
Ultimately, "Bandits" ends up in that in-between area where it's neither bad nor good, but simply rather forgettable. It's a movie that has some definite moments and great performances (especially Thornton), but could have been improved with some considerable (15-20 minutes) editing and stronger writing.