Two movies sharing a similar theme are being released this week, and while both succeed, they do so for different reasons. Although they are both comedies that center on crime, one is an intelligent film, the other is just plain stupid.
The latter, Corky Romano, has the easier task at hand. Once a film is recognized as a stupid comedy, not much effort is needed to sway the audience into a different direction. Bandits, on the other hand, could have gone wrong at many points during the film, but the writing, directing and best of all, acting, keep it going strong.
Romano gets easy laughs from fart and gay-themed jokes.
Bandits relies on witty dialogue and spot-on delivery.
The talent is varied as well. Saturday Night Live’s Chris Kattan and the guy who played the original Shaft (Richard Roundtree) star in the dumb one. While Bruce Willis, along with Oscar-friendly thespians Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, headline the smart comedy.
But while Romano may be dismissed for being predictably juvenile, and likewise Bandits for its older and possibly stale cast, both films deserve a look for achieving the goals they set for themselves.
Kattan plays Corky, an inept assistant veterinarian who happens to be the alienated son of mob boss Pops Romano (a perpetually squinting Peter Falk). When Pops has a stroke, or something, while on trial for gambling charges, Corky is called by his two brothers Peter (Chris Penn) and Paulie (Peter Berg) to help out the family. Apparently, someone in the family is an informant for the FBI and the filmmakers decide to tell the audience in the opening minute that it is Uncle Leo (Fred Ward). So Corky is asked by the family to go undercover as an FBI agent and destroy the evidence.
Sounds dumb, huh? Well, the fact that Corky gets false identification and it fools every FBI agent, with the exception of one predictable jealous rival named Brick (Matthew Grave), probably won’t sell you on the realistic aspects either. But that’s not the point. Corky has a core audience, and those interested in seeing Kattan act like an idiot will enjoy his shtick here immensely.
The jokes that do work, do so by milking every laugh out of them as possible. Kattan is endearing as Corky, a bumbling doofus who gives you an idea of what Screech would be like at a Saved By The Bell 10-year reunion. Just like Screech, whose good intentions don’t always produce good results, Corky’s mishaps are nonetheless funny to watch. Whether he is sneaking into the FBI evidence room or pining over Kate (Vinessa Shaw), the predictable, attractive colleague agent, Corky gives Kattan a chance to shine and prove that he is coming into his own as one of the most lovable goofballs this side of Jerry Lewis.
However, if you think bathroom humor and a tough-Mafia-guy-couldn’t-possibly-be-gay joke that plays throughout are as juvenile as they sound, then no persuasion in the world will convince you to see this movie.
But if you are still interested in seeing a comedy this weekend, Bandits might be more your speed.
Joe (Willis) and Terry (Thornton) are introduced to us while escaping from prison together in a scenario that reminds you of the ludicrousness of Johnny Dangerously.
Needing some cash, they rob a bank with a yellow fluorescent marker and decide to be bank robbers for a while.
Although we don’t know how far the friendship goes back, it doesn’t seem to matter after a while because Bandits quickly allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Joe and Terry soon come up with the idea of kidnapping the bank manager the night before the morning robbery, as an alternative to the conventional method of doing the deed in the middle of the day. After one successful try, they become famous as a result of an America’s Most Wanted-esque program that sensationalizes the duo.
On his way back to one of the meeting points, Terry runs out of gas and gets hit by a disgruntled housewife’s car. Cate Blanchett plays Kate, the woman scorned, and she takes her boredom out on the now-dubbed “sleepover bandits.”
Since the abnormally nice criminals don’t know what to do with her, Kate becomes their groupie and begins to aid in their crime spree. It’s not long before both Joe and Terry become attracted to Kate’s unstable mental capacity and newfound desire for danger.Blanchett’s character is reminiscent of Tim Robbins’ in Nothing To Lose, as someone on the brink of a breakdown holding it off long enough to act out crazy fantasies while he or she can still justify being insane.
One robbery after another, along with the subplot of Joe and Terry squabbling over Kate’s affections, make up the majority of the action. Extra comic relief is provided by Troy Garity as Harvey, a wannabe Hollywood stuntman who drives the getaway car when he’s not pretending to get shot in the chest using realistic blood or getting distracted by the constant presence of an attractive female hitchhiker.
But Bandits mainly succeeds thanks to Willis and Thornton and the characters they charmingly portray. Though they are criminals, they are the nicest guys in the world. At one point during a holdup at a bank manager’s house, the prospective hostage recognizes Joe and Terry from television and excitedly invites them in for the evening. At one point during the robbery, Terry threatens her and she says, “Oh, don’t be silly. You’re Terry Collins. Everybody knows you wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
While most of the comedy is geared toward older audiences, the broad appeal comes from the scenarios the two men get themselves into and how they comically bicker with each other once they are there.
The problems that come with some improbable scenarios, such as the laughable prison escape and lack of police-on-their-trail subplot, that would otherwise distract from a lesser film, don’t take away from the efforts here.
Directed by Barry Levinson, Bandits takes a Rain Man approach at points when Joe helps Terry along during one of his many phobia attacks. But for the most part, Levinson reverts to his Good Morning, Vietnam antics where he balances laugh-out-loud comedy with eloquent moments of dramatic tension.
While Corky Romano and Bandits both suffer from minor problems here and there, they succeed, for the most part, on their own levels and yet they can both be enjoyed by either audience – a rare feat.
Overall, two movies are available this weekend for the viewing pleasure of those who wish to make the effort to make it out to the multiplex. The only dilemma that may arise is deciding which one to see.
• Both films are rated PG-13 •