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Friday, October 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Blanchett seizes 'Bandits' role and runs away with the movie

Seattle Times movie critic

"Bandits"


***

With Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Troy Garity. Directed by Barry Levinson, from a screenplay by Harley Peyton. 123 minutes. Rated R for some sexual content, language and violence. Several theaters.

Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton may be the bank robbers in Barry Levinson's likable comedy "Bandits," but Cate Blanchett is the real thief. Dolled up in smudgy makeup and fiery-red hair falling over one eye in Veronica Lake waves, she rolls her eyes, sighs, and — just like that — steals the movie.

Blanchett's take on Kate Wheeler, a bored housewife thrilled to be along for the ride with big-time bandits, is irresistibly goofy from the moment we first see her, doing a wildly swoopy dance in her kitchen to Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero."

Otherwise, "Bandits" is an unextraordinary but oddly appealing combination of caper movie and romantic comedy, with both Willis and Thornton delivering relaxed, funny performances. They play Joe and Terry, a pair of prison escapees on the run who become famous as the "Sleepover Bandits": They show up at a bank manager's house (the suburban interiors are note-perfect, right down to the plaid wallpaper in one home), take the family hostage, spend the night and go to the bank with the manager in the morning.

It's a funny idea, and screenwriter Harley Peyton mines it for a number of giggly set sequences (although, at slightly over two hours, the film feels overlong). The hook, supposedly, is that Joe and Terry are two very different guys — Joe's a fast-talking smooth operator; Terry's a slightly nerdy hypochondriac who's constantly consulting his Merck Manual. (The list of Terry's neuroses is hilarious, and suspiciously reminiscent of Thornton's real-life persona: He's afraid of antiques, afraid of getting smaller, can't eat in front of a black-and-white movie.)

Kate, who literally crashes into their story when her car hits Terry, falls for both of them, with two appealing bedroom scenes: an "It Happened One Night"-flavored encounter with Joe (yes, those Walls of Jericho come tumbling down), and a sweet romp with Terry in an absurdly green hotel room, as if swimming in an emerald sea. How will this triangle get resolved? Well — not how you'd expect it, but in a way that feels oddly right for the movie.

Troy Garity (son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden) wafts in and out as dopey Harvey, a would-be stuntman who drives the getaway car. He gets a few moments to shine, most notably in a wonderfully slurry speech about having set his head on fire.

But really the movie belongs to Blanchett. Levinson and director of photography Dante Spinotti often surround her with blue light, making her hair and skin glow; late in the movie, when we see her standing in the frame of a broken window in a long coat, lit by a dim indigo sky, she looks like a wacky angel.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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