2001-10-18 / Arts & Entertainment

Crime Caper ‘Annoys And Bores As It Entertains’

AP Movie Writer
By David Germain

Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton co-star as charming bank bandits in the comedy crime caper, "Bandits." 	        Richard CartwrightcMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer PicturesBruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton co-star as charming bank bandits in the comedy crime caper, "Bandits." Richard CartwrightcMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

The crime-spree comedy ``Bandits'' is loaded with punchy lines, amusing sight gags, clever car stunts and a good quartet of main characters that play well off one another's differences.

Yet it's overloaded with drab downtime between robberies, some drawn-out scenes and a clunky framing device that repeatedly interrupts the film's pacing.

The result is a stop-start caper that annoys or bores almost as much as it entertains.

The impressive threesome of Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, with solid support from Troy Garity, bring the film in much higher on the laugh meter than Harley Peyton's passably funny script merits.

Director Barry Levinson lets ``Bandits'' drag on far too long, though, devoting two hours to subject matter that should have been handled in about 90 minutes.

Willis plays bullheaded prison inmate Joe Blake, who swipes a cement truck and crashes out of the slammer with hypochondriac buddy Terry Collins (Thornton) along for the ride. Lily-livered Terry obsesses on imagined ailments both physical and psychological, including his fear of antique furniture, Charles Laughton and Benjamin Disraeli's hair.

The two hit on a low-risk scheme to rob banks: Take the managers hostage at their homes the night before, have a nice meal there, then head to work with them the next morning and grab the cash before the banks open.

They journey south from rural Oregon to Los Angeles, becoming TV celebrities known as the ``Sleepover Bandits'' as they stockpile greenbacks to finance the nightclub Joe wants to open near Acapulco.

"That's Mexico,'' Terry notes when Joe brings up the plan.

"Right. That's where they keep Acapulco, Terry,'' Joe responds.

"But I have sanitation issues, Joe,'' Terry says.

Joining the bandits is Joe's cousin Harvey (Garity), who sets himself on fire and leaps from daunting heights in training to become a Hollywood stuntman.

A chance highway encounter tosses bored housewife Kate Wheeler (Blanchett) into the mix. Hungry for adventure, Kate tags along and sparks a romantic tug-of-war that threatens Joe and Terry's friendship.

Willis is in his generally effective bad-boy comic mode, though his smirking, ready-to-rumble disposition is nothing viewers haven't seen a dozen times before in his lighter action flicks.

Blanchett's Kate is a lovely looneybird, a sign she has the chops for physical farce.

Garity, who played his father, Tom Hayden, in last year's "Steal This Movie," displays languid charm as the droning, dreaming Harvey.

While Thornton's Terry sounds off a few too many times on his neuroses, his befuddled self-absorption and spanked-puppy hesitancy make the character a delight to watch. Ostensibly the straight man, Thornton shines with stoic comic expressionism worthy of Buster Keaton.

The holdup scenes and getaways are crisp and engaging, but Levinson tarries on the interludes, ticking away needless minutes on fairly forgettable interaction among the robbers.

The biggest theft of moviegoers' time comes with an irritating series of flash-forward interviews Joe and Terry do with the host of a true-crime TV show.

They're meant as transitions between heists and set-ups for an armed standoff that ends Joe and Terry's bank careers. But they bog down the story and are deadly dull compared with the clashes and camaraderie of Joe and Terry on the road.

"Bandits'' needed to follow the prime rule of the professional bank robber: Get in and out as quickly as possible.

"Bandits'' is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, language and violence. Running time: 123 minutes.

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