Comparisons to BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID may be inevitable for this thoroughly entertaining movie about two charming bank robbers and the woman they both love.
Joe (Willis) is the strong, confident one of the pair. Impulsive and given to reading Sun Tzu, Joe has an eye for the ladies and a small problem with “anger management.” When a bright yellow cement truck catches his eye, he commandeers it to escape from prison without a moment’s planning.
His friend Terry (Thornton) is the smart, sensitive one. Both an extreme hypochondriac and phobic, Terry is constantly worrying out loud about his various ailments and fears (many of which, such as a fear of antique furniture, are actual phobias of actor Thornton). However Terry’s myriad concerns do not prevent him from hitching a ride on the cement truck nor from buying into Joe’s dream of running a hotel in paradise south of the border.
Such a venture requires financing, of course, so the boys recruit Joe’s cousin (Garrity), a would-be Hollywood stuntman, to be the getaway driver and are soon back to robbing banks. Terry comes up with the modus operandi of kidnapping bank managers and staying in their homes the night before the robbery. When an “America’s Most Wanted”-style show starts to publicize their exploits, they are soon dubbed “The Sleepover Bandits” and start to become folk heroes.
As Joe and Terry make their way down the West Coast, Terry is literally run over by Kate (Blanchett), a rich, unhappy housewife. Despite Terry’s warning that she is “an iceberg waiting for the Titanic,” Kate quickly goes from hostage to member of the gang. Sure enough Joe and Terry both fall for Kate and she for them. However Kate declines to choose between the two, observing that together Joe and Terry make up the perfect man, and soon tensions arise that threaten their friendships and even their lives.
BANDITS is a treat to watch due to its excellent cast. Billy Bob Thornton is simply wonderful, muttering a stream of consciousness that is so sharp and fast that you barely have time to laugh at one bit before your brain registers the next one. He and real-life friend Bruce Willis share a genuine rapport on-screen. The consummate actress, Cate Blanchett completely disappears into her flame-haired character. And Troy Garrity is a real surprise, playing sweet and goofy with real charm.
BANDITS succeeds on every level, filled as it is with moments of sublime hilarity and real suspense. One would expect no less from a movie by Barry Levinson. Go see it.