Bandits is hysterically funny, for the first 45 minutes, at which point it abruptly ceases being funny and slowly becomes more and more unwatchable. It's a shame that a concept with such potential so glaringly loses its way.
The film stars Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as the titular bandits, who break out of prison and soon after devise a scheme to rob banks by kidnapping the bank's manager the night before and sleeping over at his house (thus, they come to be known as "The Sleepover Bandits.")
In the picture's first act, the banter between the two is hilarious, with Willis the seasoned, tough criminal and Thornton the eccentric hypochondriac who also happens to be a master bank robber (the sleepover thing was his idea). All of the opening scenes are hilarious, especially one in which they rob a narcoleptic bank manager.
Then, Cate Blanchett shows up as a bored housewife who through a series of coincidences ends up staying with the two robbers. Enjoy the scene where she and Thornton first meet, because it's the final entertaining moment in the movie.
Now, Blanchett is a fine and talented actress, and she is both believable and touching in the role. She is an asset to just about any movie she appears in, but not this one. Because the moment she shows up, Bandits is immediately doomed to become just another unfunny love-triangle comedy. And it can't even be saved by a moderately shocking surprise ending.
It's hard to imagine any recent film with more of a night-and-day, funny-and-not-funny feel to it - there are many laughs in the movie before the triangle starts; there are none after. Willis and Thornton's characters are interesting when they're just bankrobbers; they're boring, tiresome and unbelievable when they become romantics. Thornton's character, after all, is almost entirely a riff on the actor's public persona as a redneck weirdo, and it's only so long before we get sick of him blabbering on about diseases and phobias. Even the film's best gimmick, the two stars wearing different comical costumes for each robbery, is abandoned halfway through.
In fact, the film probably would've been more interesting had it been about their wannabe-stuntman driver, played by Jane Fonda's son Troy Garity, who is on a movie-long quest to find his dreamgirl, played by recent U.S. Maxim Girl January Jones.
Bandits was directed by Barry Levinson, who has had much success with his Baltimore-based films (most notably Diner) but not so much with those not set there and not named "Rain Man" or "Bandits", which finds its characters on the road for much of the plot, comes nowhere near Baltimore.
Levinson stages some good visuals, including some beautiful mountain photography in on-the-road scenes and a hilarious prison escape sequence. But it's surprising that such a seasoned pro would have so much trouble juggling the narrative. The narrative which jumps back and forth in time, adds almost nothing to the film and is more confusing than effective.
Bandits borrows liberally from many great films of the past, most notably Bonnie & Clyde, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, and Fargo (especially rips off the score). But lack of character development and a steep drop-off from first act to second and third, means it is unlikely to steal audience's hearts.