Bandidas (2006)
Directed by Joachim Roenning & Espen Sandberg

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* *

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A railroad company is planning to lay tracks across a stretch of old Mexico, and an American bank is planning to take control of the land over which these are going to be laid. To ensure that it acquires such properties, the bank's managers hire a brutal killer, Quentin (Steve Zahn), to carry out their designs, even if he has to murder those who oppose them. Quentin subsequently visits a wealthy landowner, whose daughter Sara (Salma Hayek) has just returned from studying in Europe. The landowner promptly dies under peculiar circumstances, and Quentin goes on to attempt to kill a poor peasant, although the latter is found and saved by his daughter Maria (Penélope Cruz). She and Sara then both independently try to rob the local bank, which is owned by the American bank employing Quentin. They succeed, but only by luck, join together, despite their being opposites in almost every way, and are trained by a wise former bank robber, Bill Buck (Sam Shepard), so that they can go on to rob more banks and defeat Quentin. While doing so, they kidnap a crime investigator, Tyler Jackson (Dwight Yoakam), who happens to be engaged to the daughter of the head of the American bank employing Quentin. He, however, proves to be sympathetic to the women and not only helps them but also demonstrates that Quentin is, in fact, responsible for murdering Sara's father.

There are bad movies that are entertaining, and there are bad movies that are just bad. Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg's Bandidas is one of the latter. The film veers from tiresome to grating with only a few diverting moments between these extremes.


I will concede that both of the lead actresses are talented, and both are very attractive. Unfortunately, although they are still appealing to look at here, they are not impressive as performers. Their characters are virtually caricatures. Sara is a spoiled rich girl who learns to love her country and its people. Maria is a simple farm girl who loves animals and has a heart of gold. The two are utterly unbelievable. Not only are they little more than stock characters, but they are also so modern, and so American, in their sassy attitudes, ideals (which, apparently, are informed by feminism and a belief in being kind to animals), and so on, that it is impossible to buy them as Mexican women from a century ago. Just to make things worse, and sillier, it is implied that Hayek's character is in her twenties, at most. As beautiful as the actress is, there is no way that she was in her twenties when the movie was made.


None of the other characters is any better. Bill Buck is a wise old teacher (I was almost surprised that he did not spout pseudo-Zen aphorisms or teach his pupils to use "the Force"). Tyler is a decent, bumbling scientist, and Quentin is a snarling, bigoted, murderous fiend. There is not a character in the film who is not exaggerated to the point of being grating. I do not except from this even incidental characters. Mexican peasants are, for example, good and earthy, while Quentin's henchmen are vicious thugs.


As black and white as these individuals are, they are not the only poorly drawn elements in Bandidas. The whole narrative is just absurd. It contrasts the good, poor peasants of Mexico with the evil imperialism of the United States in the crudest of ways. The approach is so brazen that it simply does not work. Just as Nazi propaganda films demonizing Jews lead the viewer of such films to sympathize with the villains of those works, to see them as the victims of stereotyping and slander, so Bandidas, with its bludgeoning, ham-handed morals, leads the viewer to feel sympathy for its villain, the United States. That was clearly not the directors' intention.


Even with all its faults, Bandidas could have been an entertaining movie had it included a a sufficient number of exciting action sequences or funny comic moments. Sadly, the action sequences are generally tepid, and even the best are never inspired or truly thrilling. The comic moments are even worse. Most are forced and most are juvenile.


There is very little that I can say about Bandidas that is complimentary. The movie is rarely boring, but it does range from annoying to silly to boring.

Review by Keith Allen

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