by Stan Gerbe
Billy Bob Thornton gets a lot of grief -- for being weird, for being married to the much younger Angelina Jolie, for daring to step outside the behavior expected of big Hollywood stars. But maybe people are just jealous. Thornton is a great actor, as his classic turn as a hypochondriac bank robber in Bandits proves. He listens to the Merck Manual on tape in between robberies, and when his partner (Bruce Willis) tells him about a brain tumor his brother got, Thornton's character starts developing the same set of symptoms.
Bandits really hangs on Thornton's hilarious diatribes, although Cate Blanchette is also really good -- especially when she gets to sing. Bruce Willis does his usual strong, silent type thing (doesn't he seem to play the same character in every movie?). He may get top billing on the marquee, but he is effective only as the straight man.
The film (directed by Barry Levinson of Diner fame) has a great narrative structure, which he clearly borrowed from A Dog Day Afternoon. Even though some of the things that come before may leave you scratching your head, the payoff at the end is just about perfect. The only flaw is in the conclusion to the simmering romance, which was a bit creepy. Still, it's a fun ride, with well-chosen music (the cheesey "Total Eclipse of the Heart" plays a major role) and engaging scenery from the Oregon and California coasts.