"Bandits", the latest effort from "Wag the Dog" director Barry Levinson, is one part "Fargo"-style black comedy, one part road movie, and one part oddball romance. Complementing this triumvirate of genres is a trio of personalities so off-the-wall that they couldn't be anywhere else but in each other's company. Joe Blake (Bruce Willis of "Unbreakable") and Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton of "Sling Blade") are a couple of escaped convicts and a study in contrasts-- Joe is an impulsive man of action who never thinks too far ahead, while Terry is a neurotic hypochondriac who thinks far too much about everything. Along with their inarticulate driver (Troy Garity of "Conspiracy Theory"), they gain national fame and notoriety as the 'Sleepover Bandits', as their modus operandi is to go to the bank manager's house the night before, stay over, and then rob the bank first thing in the morning before the start of business-- all of which is conducted with the utmost politeness and consideration.
Unfortunately, a monkey wrench is thrown into their operation when Terry is accidentally run over by Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett of "The Gift"), a bored, lonely, and depressed (not to mention probably insane) housewife. Seeking a change from her loveless marriage to an unappreciative husband, Kate becomes a modern-day Patty Hearst, joining Joe and Terry as they rob banks up and down the west coast, from Oregon to California. To further complicate matters, Kate finds herself attracted to her captors/accomplices, kicking off a love triangle that may very well put an end to the 'Sleepover Bandits'.
Told in flashback, "Bandits" starts off strongly near the end of the story, as Joe and Terry find themselves trapped in a San Diego bank, surrounded by heavily-armed police, apparently having been turned in by Kate. Using an "America's Most Wanted"-type show as a framing device, the background details are filled in with a series of quirky and often priceless vignettes of Joe and Terry's early and inept bank robberies and their run-in with Kate. Unfortunately, if there is a complaint to be made about "Bandits", it is that the middle stretch runs a bit too long, as Levinson indulges himself far too often while fleshing out the love triangle brewing between his three leads. Thankfully, audience patience is rewarded in the film's closing sequence, where some clever twists put a surprising new perspective on what seems to be a done deal.
Of the three leads, Thornton is perhaps the most interesting, bringing a bit of Woody Allen to his likeable portrayal of Terry. Willis is not as good, partly due to the bland characterization of Joe, and he relies more on his charm and good looks to carry the film. Blanchett is sympathetic and amusing as the third piece of the love triangle, though her over-the-top portrayal of the neurotic Kate does sometimes strain credibility, as does her attraction to her partners in crime. Finally, Garity steals many of his scenes as a simple-minded wannabe-stuntman whose penchant for special effects and lighting himself on fire is a critical piece of the film's twist ending.
Some audiences may find "Bandits" to be a bit long and repetitive, as it could have been tightened with some judicious editing and more economical writing by scribe Harley Peyton ("Twin Peaks"). However, this black comedy crime caper still manages to be a fun and entertaining ride, loaded with a number of comic gems which defy audience expectations, and is wrapped up nicely with an unforgettable slam-bang conclusion.