from Film Forum, 10/18/01
Okay, so most of these titles give you pause. Can Bruce Willis save the day? Banditsis directed by Barry Levinson, who has given us reason to cheer (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, Avalon) and reason to grumble (Sphere, Toys). In a setup that resembles Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis play burglars who find themselves bothered by a woman who comes between them.
This one's not so bad, according to Douglas Downs at Christian Spotlight on the Movies: "If you like well-written dramas that don't insult your intelligence—then Bandits is a decent outing. My main moral objection is the storyline surrounding the love triangle. Kate (Cate Blanchett) sleeps with both guys and is married to neither. They take the story one step further and imply that she may not have to choose between one or the other—Joe (Willis) and Terry (Thornton) together make up the perfect man. Fortunately, this triangle does not become a major part of the film."
But on that same Web page, an 18-year-old moviegoer responds in stark disagreement: "Bandits is a film about sin, and how fun sin can be. The film is immensely entertaining, but as a Christian, you have to stop and wonder if a film like this should be something to feed to our attention."
Other critics in the religious media take the same critical stance. The USCC doesn't let Bandits off the hook. "In director Barry Levinson's inconsistent, meandering narrative, not only does crime pay, the selfish trio carry on a three-way relationship that disregards morality."
"Bandits glamorizes crime and disappoints with foul language and immoral behavior," complains Mary Draughon of Preview.
Movieguide says the movie "has many hilarious parts [but] the story is not true to the rules of real life. Bandits portrays one confused woman, who considers her lust interests as 'outlaws' literally, but refers to herself as an 'outlaw,' figuratively. Indeed, she has rewritten the law of love!"
"I hate feeling manipulated into rooting for bad people," declares Focus on the Family's Bob Smithouser. "Bandits does a very good job of making ignoble characters sympathetic. Audiences also get that time-honored denouement suggesting that crime pays. Let's just hope those who check it out aren't taken hostage by the moral ambiguity and dubious rationalization that runs through the picture."
Michael Elliott says it "lacks the detail and precision that marks a quality heist picture and yet doesn't have a truly sympathetic character needed for an effective romantic comedy. Bandits is just one in a long line of films that present bad guys as 'heroes.'"
Mainstream critics tended to argue that the film fails because it wants to be too many things at once. Roger Ebert reports, "Bandits is a movie so determined to be clever and whimsical that it neglects to be anything else. That decision wouldn't be fatal if the movie had caved in and admitted it was a comedy, but, no, it also wants to contain moments of pathos, suspense and insight, and it's too flimsy to support them. If the movie won't commit, why should we?"