Movie Review: Bandidas

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,


Bandidas (2006 Dir. Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg)

This is not a bad movie, it’s just not a very good one. That’s sort of sad, because there are the makings of a great movie here and you can see glimmers of that great movie from time to time. A few small problems snowball into huge problems for the movie, but not to an extent that it actually becomes bad. This is a watchable film, but how much enjoyment you might get is greatly dependant on your personal feelings. I liked parts of the movie, but the movie as a whole product never quite comes together for me. Let’s break down the movie and see what works and what doesn’t.

I’m the cute one, oh yes I am!

The movie doesn’t even start with our stars, although this isn’t a problem. The movie starts with a young man who wishes to prove that scientific investigation has a place in police work. This is Quentin, who will play a part much later in the movie. Sadly, it takes a long time for Quentin to become part of the story, too long in fact. The movie is half way over before Quentin actually enters the story in any significant fashion. I’ll come back to that problem in a moment. When he is part of the story, his interaction with the girls is really quite spectacular. If the girls had met him earlier in the movie, and thus spent more time with him, it could have been a cheeky romp. Instead it’s a scatter shot… and I’ll get back to that.

I’m the firey sexy one!

Our actual heroes are Sarah (played by Salma Hayek) Maria (Penélope Cruz), who are respectavily a rich daughter and a farm girl. When their fathers are killed (Okay, Maria’s father is just almost killed) by a villain representing an American bank, they decide to rob banks to get their own back. It’s a little more complicated than that of course, there’s a land grab and a mystery and a training montage and a lot of chest beating anachronistic anti-Americanism that become rather tiresome very quickly. Here is one of the big problems, what should be a comedy about Latina bank robbers becomes an attempt to be something bigger, but it never earns the grand sentiment and just makes you roll your eyes at the naive stupidity. It wants to have grave themes, but it has no actual gravity. Had it just been a cheeky comedy, it would have been a lot better. I only really enjoyed the movie when they were just being kind of silly. I’ll get back to the cause of that a bit later.

Every movie like this needs a scene like this.

The plot is a fairly cut and paste, paint by numbers, comedy western trying to follow the lead of Shanghi Noon without ever managing to understand why that movie worked. The narrative isn’t particularly strong, each part of the movie is more or less slotted into place with an audible thud. The girls are introduced, and I swear you can hear gears working, the fathers are killed and the land grabbed and you can just see tab A of learning the villagers are all loosing their land as tab B of deciding to rob banks slots in. Then they go learn how to rob banks in a training montage that sadly doesn’t have any rock music. The old back robber teaching them is cut and pasted from any of three dozen movies… and it goes on like this. The movie has not a single ounce of invention until Maria and Sara meet up with Quentin. The reasons for this are… well let’s get to that shall we?

Welp, my ten minutes are up, I’ll just collect my check and leave the movie now.

I’ve been mentioning that I’d get back to the chief problem, and here it is. Luc Besson wrote the movie (with help from Robert Mark Kamen) and Luc Besson is… a writer with specific skills. I don’t want to say that he’s not a good writer, because no one can have the career he has had without being good. I’ve seen several movies that were either scripted by him or directed by him and he’s good in some circumstances. The problem is that he repeats himself a lot and some of his humor has never worked for me. The baddie in this is a guy named Jackson. Now Jackson is played by Dwight Yoakam, but it might as well be Gary Oldman and may have been written for him. I say that because this is roughly the same character Oldman played in The Fifth Element and The Professional. That over the top, completely unrealistic bad guy. In fact, except for some really good actors playing them in different ways, Besson tends to only really write one villain. Besson has clearly seen a lot of American movies, but no one ever told him that those are already exaggerated. A lot of the elements in this movie can be directly traced back to things that worked in other movies Besson has written and sadly it makes the film as a whole not work. Well, save for a few scenes of true invention.

Well… um… yeah.

I’m going to describe one of the bits of truly amusing invention. There is a… well, no other way to say it but to say it. There is a near three-way in this movie that takes place during an interrogation. The way the girls get Quentin into their story is that they grab him as he’s drying from a bath and tie him naked to the bed. As they’re demanding information, they get distracted by a conversation about experience and kissing. Sara decides to teach Maria about kissing and the two of them use Quentin as a proving ground. It’s a fairly amusing and sort of cute scene with a dash of wickedness. After that, it’s only the scenes where the girls are interacting with him that the movie becomes really fun. It’s interesting because normally love triangles bore me rigid, but it really worked here. If they’d been together longer, the movie would have been better.

Mexico always makes me sneeze.

So is the movie funny? Yeah, I laughed. Someone once said the mark of a good comedy is if you laugh out loud more than seven times during the movie. I actually laughed audibly six or seven times. Not hard, not guffaws, but I laughed and that makes it work. Sadly though, it only just works as a comedy and the whole time I was thinking that there was a much better movie hidden in here. I know, I know, I shouldn’t judge a movie on what it isn’t, but rather what it is. The problem is that it’s kind of a clichéd mess. If I go by what this could have been, I feel more warmly toward it, so this once we’ll let it slide because it improves the score. Go a head and get a copy for yourself and give it a try.

Official Score:
28 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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