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review added: 7/9/02



Bandits
Special Edition - 2001 (2002) - MGM

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Bandits: Special Edition Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/C-

Specs and Features

123 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), Amaray keep case packaging, dual-sided, single-layered, 4 deleted scenes, alternate ending with optional commentary by actress Cate Blanchett, Inside Bandits featurette, Creating Scene 71 featurette, theatrical trailers for Bandits, Windtalkers and Hart's War, DVD trailer for Rocky: Special Edition, Bandits soundtrack spot, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), French, Spanish and Portuguese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

Poor MGM. Not the home video division, which continues to release a staggering number of both popular and bizarro movies on DVD each month, some of which are quite excellent indeed. No... I mean the legendary theatrical studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the original home of such giants as The Wizard of Oz and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Time was that the signature roar of Leo the Lion at the beginning of a picture was a virtual guarantee of a hit. Nowadays, it seems like the only things that work for MGM at the box office are Hannibal Lector and James Bond. Case in point: Bandits.

On paper, this probably looked like a surefire hit. Bruce Willis stars (with Smirk Level set to "high") as Joe Blake. Joe and hypochondriac fellow inmate Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) stage a spectacularly unlikely spur-of-the-moment prison breakout and immediately return to robbing banks. Their plan is to steal enough money so they can open a resort down in Mexico. Realizing that this is a high-risk endeavor, Joe and Terry concoct a seemingly foolproof plan. They kidnap the bank manager the night before, spend the night at his or her house, then go to work with him or her the next morning, thus controlling the environment. Everything goes perfectly until Terry runs into (or, more accurately, is run into by) Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett), a wildly unhappy housewife with a thing for Bonnie Tyler songs. Kate falls for Joe at first sight, so she decides to join the gang (now dubbed the Sleepover Bandits by the media). If this sounds somewhat familiar, maybe you've heard of the real-life case that inspired this movie. But it's more likely that you, like the filmmakers, have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or one of the thousand other movies just like it.

So why wasn't Bandits successful? Partly, I think, because the movie that MGM marketed in its ad campaign is nothing like the movie Bandits actually is. This is not the hilarious action-comedy/buddy movie that audiences are used to (arguably, too used to). This is a considerably more laid-back, folksy tale. Screenwriter Harley Peyton and director Barry Levinson are obviously more interested in these characters' quirks and eccentricities than in wringing tension and thrills out of the myriad bank robberies. Unfortunately, the movie seems to think quirks and eccentricities are all there is to a character. We never really find out anything more about Joe and Terry than we discover in the first five minutes. Joe's an impulsive charmer with a temper and Terry's a bright hypochondriac with a kaleidoscope of tics and odd mannerisms. We don't really know why they're in jail, how they met or why they stay together. As for Kate, she's a caricature of an ignored and unloved wife, finally breaking out of her shell. Willis, Thornton and Blanchett all do their best with the material and the first half of the movie does have enough going for it in individual moments to make you think the film might just be okay. But by the second hour, all narrative tension slowly starts to evaporate, leading up to a ridiculous anti-climax that makes Joe and Terry's prison break look like a training film for heavy equipment operators.

Picture and sound quality are both very good on this disc, as I should hope they would be for a movie this recent and from such a major studio. Director of photography Dante Spinotti and production designer Victor Kempster have made Bandits into a surprisingly good-looking film, with sophisticated use of light and color. The 16x9 enhanced widescreen version of the movie captures both Spinotti's camerawork and the many impressive details of Kempster's sets. A pan and scan version is included on the flip side of the disc, but since the look of the movie is one of the few things I enjoyed unreservedly, it would be a shame to cut it in half. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is equally good, though considerably more subtle and reserved in its use of surround effects than you might expect from a movie like this. However, when they do kick in, the music washes over you completely.

As for the extra features, I'm a bit confused as to how this disc earned the "Special Edition" label. Yes, there are a few extras and they're not bad, but I've seen more loaded discs that aren't considered special editions. What you do get are four understandably deleted scenes and an alternate ending with an optional commentary by Cate Blanchett. The differences in the endings aren't huge and Ms. Blanchett doesn't exactly have a lot of time to say much about it. However, given the commentary here, it is curious that there is no commentary offered for the movie itself. The Inside Bandits featurette packs a fair amount of information into its brief twenty minute running time, particularly as it goes through the film's development process. Creating Scene 71 is a closer look at a scene with Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett, that echoes It Happened One Night. This is an interesting look at how a scene develops from script to screen, though it would have been even more interesting if we could have read how the scene was written in the first place. Finally, MGM plugs itself with a handful of trailers for other studio releases.

Bandits isn't really a bad movie. It's genial, easy-going and, at least for a little while, mildly entertaining. Levinson, Willis and Thornton have all made movies much, much worse than this one. Chalk this up as a well-intentioned failure... and perhaps a warm-up for a better future collaboration.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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