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Review: 'Bandits' steals your heart

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- It takes awhile before "Bandits" steals your heart, but once it gets rolling you'll fall in love with this off-beat comedic gem -- a gem which truly shines once Cate Blanchett joins in with the film's other two stars, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. This elegant Australian actress once again proves her wide range by giving an inspired performance as Kate Wheller, an Oregon housewife bored with her inattentive husband and her empty, overly-privileged life.

The film begins with our two hapless protagonists, Joe Blake (Willis) and Terry Collins (Thornton), conducting a broad daylight robbery of a major city bank. They're surrounded by police and their situation looks hopeless as they begin to reminisce about how they got into this sorry position, and who got them there -- namely, the aforementioned Kate.

Using the truly annoying character of Darren Head (Bobby Slayton) -- a tabloid TV reporter with a really hideous New Yawk accent -- we are taken into flashback where the story begins weeks earlier with Joe and Terry making a daring daylight breakout from the prison where they've been sent for -- what else? -- robbing banks.

Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton star in 'Bandits' (October 9)

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Joe is the impulsive one: He shoots from the hip and from the lip. He's a wonted ladies man who has never met an attractive woman he didn't love -- at least for the night.

Terry is the exact opposite: He's a thinker who over analyzes everyone and everything. Terry has never had an unexpressed thought and he never ever, ever gets the girl.

Once they've escaped from jail, the pair comes up with an inspired bank robbery plan. Instead of walking into banks during the day when they are full of people, why not go to the bank manager's home the night before, kidnap him and his family, then go to the bank in the morning before it opens and clean the place out.

When the boys take over their first family, the comedy really begins to perk. The dinner scene with the robbers and the mild-mannered bank manager, his hysterical wife and their two young daughters (played by Willis' real-life youngest daughters Scout and Tallulah), is priceless.

At this point Joe and Terry have taken on a partner. Troy Garity (son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden) plays a dimwitted get-away driver named Harvey Pollard [a nod to Micheal J. Pollard who starred in "Bonnie And Clyde" (1967)]. Harvey's real dream in life is to become a stunt man. There is no real reason for this character to even be in the film until the very end, and then his participation seems completely contrived. Garity gives a sincere performance, but his role is one of the film's weakest links.

After the boys split up between jobs, Kate enters the picture by running over Terry with her car. She's escaping from her empty marriage when Terry tries to hijack her car. He's picked the wrong day, the wrong car, and the wrong woman. Blanchett enters the movie like a redheaded tornado and never slows down. Both men proceed to fall in love with this cock-eyed free spirit. She, in turn, finds the perfect man by combining the two -- the cerebral Terry with the fast-acting Joe.

From this point on -- until the surprising and delightful ending -- "Bandits" moves like a well-oiled comedic machine under Barry Levinson's deft direction. From broad comedy "Good Morning, Vietman" (1987), to satirical comedy "Wag The Dog," (1997) Levinson is great at letting his actors go and giving them plenty of room to explore their characters, and the moment. Blanchett, Thornton and Willis all grab that creative access and run with it.

The teaming of Willis and Thornton takes awhile to click. Physical, almost slapstick comedy is not what Thornton is known for, and his pacing seems to be a bit unsure next to Willis and his perfect timing. But it's when all three characters are in the same scenes that this wonderful confection finally blends. In a word, the reason is Blanchett. She continues to amaze with her ability to meld into characters from all backgrounds while dashing from period pieces to dramas to comedies. This woman is one of the finest actresses of her generation.

"Bandits" opens nationwide on Friday, October 12 and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 123 minutes.


• Bandits - official website

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