Bandidas (2006) / Western-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality, brief nudity, some language and violence
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Steve Zahn, Dwight Yoakam, Sam Shepard, Ismael "East" Carlo
Director: Joachim Renning, Espen Sandberg

Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Review published February 27, 2006

Screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen continue to delve into crafting genre pictures that are reminiscent of the kinds of movies they probably enjoyed watching as youths.  They tackled action flicks with The Transporter and Transporter 2, sci-fi adventures in The Fifth Element, and kung fu films in Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed.  Fun films they may be to make, but they aren't nearly as engaging to watch, as they toss in a kitchen sink approach to injecting genre conventions that make their films derivative through and through, and consequently, quite boring. 

Such is the case in their latest project, the Western action-comedy, Bandidas, a goofy adventure that checks off all of the standard boxes when it comes to throwbacks, but lacks that spark of creativity to make it anything we haven't seen before.  Hayek has already been in her share of these kinds of tales, such as the Robert Rodriguez films, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and the one we all wish we could forget, Wild Wild WestHer agent really needs to keep her away from these kinds of movies, because they are a waste of her time and appeal.  This marks co-star Penelope Cruz's (Sahara, Gothika) first Western foray, and while the two performers do have a certain chemistry together (they are friends in real-life), it's a shame they are stuck in a leaden plot that only manages to be interesting strictly for the recurring cheesecake shots of the two actresses playing dress up or submerged constantly in water.

The setting is Mexico in the late 19th Century, where a strong-arm American bank magnate named Tyler Jackson (Yoakam, Panic Room) is busy securing the land rights to create a giant railroad system.  He not only isn't above killing to get his way, but it seems it is his preferred method of negotiation.  For different reasons, two Mexican women, the educated Sara (Hayek) and sure-shot Maria (Cruz), set about to rob the banks owned by Jackson, cutting into his profits and giving the money to the people that he has stolen from.  To catch the bandidas in the act, Jackson hires on his scientific-minded sleuth brother-in-law, Quentin (Zahn, Daddy Day Care), to pin them for the crime, but he ends up befriending the women after finding out they are criminals on the side of a greater good. 

It's clear from the outset that the creative minds behind Bandidas have no inclination to even try making a good film here.  All they want to do is craft some amusing escapist fare, hoping that the cast chemistry and various stunts will make for a rip-roaring good time for all, a la The Mask of Zorro or the aforementioned Desperado.  The execution here leaves much to be desired, as first-time feature film directors Renning and Sandberg don't have the skill or panache to turn this juvenile-minded script into the fun-filled extravaganza that it so clearly is meant to be.  It also makes little sense from a historical standpoint, as everyone, Mexicans and Americans alike, all apparently speak the same language (filmed entirely in English).

Cruz and Hayek are certainly attractive enough to watch, but both actresses are too similar in their styles and personalities to really complement one another.  Although the roles are written where Sara is the smart and crafty aristocrat, while Maria is the hothead farm girl with the talent for the firearms, the actresses could have easily switched roles with no impact to the overall feel of the movie.  There's a reason that "buddy films" pair polar opposites for laughs, but the makers of Bandidas can't even get that fundamental "Casting 101" premise right.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this ain't.

Instead, Steve Zahn is provided for the comic relief contrast, and while he certainly must have pinched himself for being so lucky in getting to make out with no less than three gorgeous women during the course of the film, he brings only his trademark nervous comic personality to his performance, adding nothing in terms of genuine laughs.  Of the entire cast, only country singer-turned-actor Dwight Yoakam manages to add the flavor needed to his underwritten role, in yet another impressive turn as a heavy.

Bandidas was probably a fun film for everyone involved to make, but unfortunately that fun didn't spill over to the big screen to include us in.  Westerns have been stylized and spoofed to the point of sheer absurdity, so to make any lasting impact, a new spin or direction is needed to give us something we haven't seen before.  Bandidas just gives us more of the same. Unless you have some fetish to see Cruz and Hayek dressed up as cowgirls, Bandidas will rob you of your time and your money.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo