dir. Levinson
Opens Fri Oct 12

Bandits is a clever bank-robbery film that bucks the current trend of one-upmanship. Too often, Hollywood crime movies (like this summer's flop Swordfish and even Bruce Willis' own Die Hard trilogy) try to engage their audience with high-tech wizardry and those never-seen-before stunts (Swordfish had an airlifted city bus smash through a high-rise office building). But Bandits--even with Willis as an escaped convict and take-no-shit boxer--is a calm, gentle, and sensible story that keeps its gun holstered.

In Bandits, two overly self-important inmates (Willis and Billy Bob Thornton) crash a cement truck through the prison gates at the Oregon State Penitentiary in the outlying suburbs of Salem; they impetuously take to a life of low-key, but highly lucrative bank robbing.

This storyline--following their bank-robbing career from Portland down the West Coast to Los Angeles--is actually a flashback. The story progresses as it hops between that plot and the present tense, where they are pinned down by the LAPD and bicker like stormy newlyweds in front of their confused hostages. The two characters are forced together even as their friendship unravels, and as actors, Willis and Thornton compliment each others' weaknesses and quirks.

In Bandits, Willis finds a balance between his stint as a wise-cracking lout in Moonlighting, and his thoughtful role in The Sixth Sense--he's not too heavy-handed with the power-punches, and he understates his smirking humor and cleverness. Likewise, Thornton, who plays the brain to Willis' brawn, hits a comfortable stride with his neurotic, self-proclaimed, genius character. Thornton serves as the subtle comic tonic for the film--from earnestly using Andy Warhol and Neil Young disguises when he robs banks, to several scenes that stop just far enough from slapstick to remain dramatic and clever. (He also gives an obvious nod to Oregon, where much of the film was shot, when he bolts up from his sleep and inexplicably shouts, "beavers and ducks!")

Unlike the overly purposeful buddy-buddy of pairings like Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, these two very different actors surprisingly fit together as comfortably as two testes in a scrotum. Bandits is not groundbreaking, but stripping violence from a film about bank robbing to its core of camaraderie helps re-direct the path of contemporary crime movies.