Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
It's such a pleasure editing MrBeaks' contributions to AICN. Not that they need any editing. It's just nice to read them first and be able to share them with you guys. Beaks is one of those writers who I enjoy reading, whether I agree with him or not. Funny how that works... isn't it? It's also nice to hear there may be some fun Barry Levinson on the way. Segue Zagnut said much the same thing after he recently saw this, so I guess BANDITS is officially on my radar now. Here's what Beaks said to get me interested...
BANDITS (d. Barry Levinson, w. Harley Peyton)
Competence. Such a rare pleasure to stumble across anything bearing a studio logo that approaches competence, especially in this mean summer season where the smoldering wreckage of THE MUMMY RETURNS, EVOLUTION, TOMB RAIDER, PEARL HARBOR and SHREK (yes, I said SHREK,) has left the 24-screen 'plexes looking more like a 24-car pile-up. With such mangled celluloid carnage sending this New Yorker scurrying for cover at the art-houses (and into the arms of the Film Forum's ongoing "Women of Pre-Code" retrospective,) I find myself -- in mid-June, no less -- turning my attention to the fall, and, having caught a glimpse of it thanks to last night's screening of Barry Levinson's BANDITS, I'm happy to report that..... well, at the very least, we have competence awaiting us.
BANDITS, a low-key, quirk-heavy pass at the post-modern screwball comedy, tells the story of Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton,) a yin-and-yang pair of bank robbers referred to by the tabloid press as the "Sleepover Bandits," due to their penchant for taking bank managers hostage overnight, and going to work with them in the morning to guarantee a swift, non-violent heist. Their novel m.o., hatched following an amusing, spur-of-the-moment jailbreak orchestrated by Joe, is calibrated to ensure an efficient string of robberies that will leave the boys with enough money to start up a casino in Acapulco; an end, given the relative ease of their first job, initially within reach, i.e. until the girl enters the picture.
Kate (essayed with the off-handed brilliance we've come to expect from our generation's Julie Christie, Cate Blanchett) is a neglected housewife who has elevated her personal tragedy of a loveless marriage to rock-operatic heights, suitably scored by the overwrought, early 80's work of Jim Steinman and Bonnie Tyler; in fact, the accident that brings Kate into the boys' lives is caused in part by her horrendously off-key warbling of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Though the worrisome Terry would like to ditch her, Kate is all too willing to be taken hostage, which suits Joe, who is instantly taken with her, just fine.
At its heart, BANDITS is character-driven, meaning that the film, ably scripted by Harley Peyton, relies upon the chemistry of its three stars to win you over. Willis is comfortable as ever in the role of the impulsive, yet easy going Joe, putting the inherent comic timing honed on MOONLIGHTING to good use, while Thornton employs an assortment of facial tics and physical shtick as the tightly-wound, hypochondriacal Terry, but the show is most certainly stolen by Ms. Blanchett, who smartly avoids playing the free-spirited, slightly unhinged Kate as caricature, imagining her instead as a wounded romantic who has stumbled, between Joe and Terry, upon the perfect man.
Impressive as the performances are, though, aside from the specific details of Joe and Terry's scheme, there's nothing particularly original here, and Levinson knows this. Coming off of last Christmas' peculiar misfire, AN EVERLASTING PIECE, it's nice to see Levinson so relaxed, confidently striking a light tone at the outset, and giving his actors room to improvise; although, his generosity has, at this early stage, resulted in a running time that could probably stand to have ten minutes or so shaved off (once the love triangle has been established, there may be one squabble too many between Joe and Terry.) Another plus is the chance to take in the great Dante Spinotti's cinematography, which beautifully captures the greens and blues of the Pacific Northwest. Quite simply, he's one of the best DP's working today.
If, when this film finally appears in theaters this October, my review appears overly-enthusiastic in hindsight, I'll be pleased. This will mean that, perhaps, the Summer righted itself; that, just maybe, PLANET OF THE APES and AI weren't crushing disappointments, and that the month of September wasn't clogged with the usual, studio backlog-purging dreck that normally makes it such a joy to wade through. For now, however, I'll take the work of talented individuals lending their considerable abilities toward the creation of a mild entertainment -- in short, competence. Is that asking so much?