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Wednesday December 8th

Thorton, Blanchett Make Off Like "Bandits" With Solid Performances

Bandits

Usually, people don't like having the metaphorical wool pulled over their eyes. But it's a guarantee you'll never enjoy it as much as you do in "Bandits."

The first five minutes of the film establishes that Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) and Joe Blake (Bruce Willis), otherwise known as the Sleepover Bandits, have been killed while holding up a bank in Los Angeles after their mutual girlfriend, Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett), turned them in.

The film then jumps back a few months and spends the next hour and forty-five minutes setting up one of the most satisfying movie endings this year.

After escaping from an Oregon prison, Terry and Joe rob banks down the Pacific coast on their way to Mexico by scoping out small-town institutions and making themselves at home with the bank manager at night so they can rob the bank in the morning.

The bumbling pair actually pulls off several of these heists, but when disgruntled housewife Kate enters the picture, Terry and Joe's partnership is threatened by the politics of love.

Is this turn of events predictable? Yes. Do they spend way too much time figuring out who gets the girl? Of course. But the rest of the film is so charmingly hysterical that it nearly makes up for the formulaic blunders.

Blanchett and Thornton both give fabulous performances. Blanchett has a role that a thousand women before her have had -- the spurned, frustrated wife. But she gives Kate a spunky vulnerability, so when she sings Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" through heaving sobs, it's genuinely touching, rather than manipulating.

Thornton particularly impresses as the hypochondriac, obsessive-compulsive Terry. He shows his talent for physical comedy and makes you forget about his scary real-life persona.

But three is a crowd, and Willis is essentially the same smarmy one-dimensional know-it-all he's been playing the past several years. His performance is even more conspicuous up against his charismatic costars.

Willis' acting and the film's length are the only downsides to this fun caper. When the film's focus is on the robberies, everything feels fresh. But the inevitable part comes when Terry and Joe have to outwit each other for Kate's affections and it becomes a who-will-she-pick melodrama. The pace plods through these sections.

But the last five minutes of "Bandits" makes it all worth it. Sure, there are plot holes large enough to drive an ambulance through, so check your sense of disbelief at the door.

But in a quirky, wittily written film where no pyrotechnic wonders are required to satisfy the audience's cinematic appetite, it's definitely a crowd-pleaser to conclude the film in a blaze of glory.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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