Working out the quirks

The latest Bruce Willis vehicle is a buddy caper that tries to manufacture quirkiness

CUTESY IN CRIME Cate Blanchett stars as a karaoke-singing hostage in Barry Levinson’s polished buddy caper movie, <i>Bandits</i>.

CUTESY IN CRIME Cate Blanchett stars as a karaoke-singing hostage in Barry Levinson’s polished buddy caper movie, Bandits.

Rated 3.0

“Just good ol’ boys … never meaning no harm …”

Bruce Willis teams up with Billy Bob Thornton in Bandits, the cinematic equivalent to easy listening, a buddy caper that not only doesn’t require you to think, but even demands that you don’t.

After making their break from a prison in a cement truck, cousins Joe (Willis) and Terry (Thornton) immediately pull up to a bank to make a “withdrawal,” setting into motion their new career as what the media dubs, “The Sleepover Bandits.” See, Terry’s the smart one, and he comes up with this idea that if they take a bank manager hostage the night before the bank opens, they can waltz right in and knock off the vaults first thing in the morning, with no messy complications.

Because Terry is so smart, he is also required to be quirky, and in this case Thornton loads him up with all sorts of character tics. Terry is a quivering neurotic hypochondriac, with a tendency to assume whatever symptoms from passersby that he comes across. He’s a bit of a goofus. So, of course, Joe has to be the complete opposite; although a bit lacking in common sense, he’s one suave, devil-may-care character who makes any woman he meets shake as she melts like butter under his soulful gaze. He’s quirky but gallant.

So, basically, Goofus and Gallant make up one good man, as inadvertent hostage Kate (Blanchett) finds. She’s quirky also—a bored, upper-middle-class housewife neglected by her husband (probably due to her obsession with singing karaoke to Bonnie Tyler songs in the kitchen). You can tell right away that she’s also crazy—she has red hair.

Before you know it, we’ve got Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde knocking off banks and doing all sorts of quirky things. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for narrative’s sake), upon finding Misters Right, Cate proceeds to fall in love with both of them, which just about screws the pooch as far as a comfortable working relationship goes between Joe and Terry. All sorts of quirky complications ensue…

Am I using the word “quirky” too much? Can’t help it—that’s obviously director Barry Levinson’s intent here, even to the point of utilizing a writer from that old paean to quirky, Twin Peaks. Not that being deliberately offbeat is necessarily a bad thing, but that lack of a little thing known as a “point” is all that separates Bandits from being a rollicking good time and, well, just quirky entertainment. There’s plenty on display here to enjoy—the actors are obviously having a lark, the gags are amusing, the film looks good—but ultimately what we end up with is nothing more than a series of goofy escapades that builds to a monumentally absurd climax.

Attempts at pathos are undermined by the whimsical tone of the script, and any real suspense is dispelled by the contrived nature of the ending, which is so needlessly quirky that it needs to be set up in the first 15 minutes of the proceedings (let’s see, we’ve got us a driver who’s also a wannabe stuntman who likes to play with blood squibs and flame suits—hmm, I wonder if that’ll come up later).

Of course, I’m being a bit harsh on the film—it’s my job. Is it a screen gem? Not particularly. Overall, it is nothing more than an inconsequential bauble polished to a high sheen. But on the other hand, it does sparkle prettily … and in a quirky sort of way. Sometimes that’s enough.