Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewer: Rissi C.
Hollywood cannot seem to get their act together and make something that is original. Bank robbers pulling off high-class heists or characters robbing for benefit of the less fortunate is an old concept. Still, never have any of them been quite as fun as this rip-roaring old-time western with two females as the leading protagonists.
Turn-of-the-century Mexico finds land barons buying up (with an unhealthy dose of persuasion as motivation) copious amounts of land in the name of progress. The train is about to come through the territory and no one can stop it, especially the small-town farmers who make the town run. But without the wealth or education to fight it, their safety and that of their family must come first. Anyone who owes the bank money and lives along the proposed rail line is evicted. Impetuous but without substantial means, Maria Alvarez (Penelope Cruz) is the daughter of one of the local farmers whose way of life has been disrupted. The only home she has ever known is burned to the ground and her father left for dead. With good reason, she wants to take down the ruthless man (Dwight Yoakam) behind this bribery.
Wealthy heiress Sara Sandoval (Selma Hayek) may not have a vested interest in the lives being ruined by the coming railway but when she finds her father’s body lifeless on the floor of his office, and Jackson lurking nearby, she is angry enough to rob a bank... one of the banks her father owned. Coincidently a robbery is already in progress when Sara bursts onto the scene: Maria beat her to it, for much different reasons. The more Sara learns, the less she likes – and she isn’t just a pretty face; she knows how to properly handle knives. Nervous enough around guns that she gets the hiccups while Maria cannot swim, the two girls realize they are better working together than against each other, and although they are totally different and bicker like schoolgirls, they conspire to do battle with Jackson by robbing banks. With the help of Bill Buck (Sam Sheppard), they are prepared to do whatever it takes. Along the way they pick up a third member in the form of criminology specialist Quentin (Steve Zahn).
Strictly in terms of script, this reminded me greatly of American Outlaws, which chronicles a lighter version of the infamous outlaw Jesse James, a movie I happen to be very fond of. Bandidas is really funny while projecting itself to be something entirely different. Like any western there is some gunfire, which rarely results in death (three men do die). Profanity is scattered but includes some uses of b*tch, GD, etc. The girls dress suggestively at times (unlaced camisoles, suggestive corsets) but not nearly to the extent the promotional material would have us believe. There are a few instances of innuendo (the girls discuss being “with a man” or seeing one naked), but the worst scene occurs when while dressed in typical showgirl costumes they tie a man naked to his bed (his nude behind is seen and frontal nudity is barely avoided when they push him onto the bed where his hat later covers his privates), take pictures, straddle him and sensually tease him with kisses, all to gather information. By certain camera angles and staging it was carefully made to appear that the two girls were making-out as Sara attempts to show Maria the “art” of proper kissing. (This becomes a running joke as to which girl gives the better kiss.)
Satire may not even be the proper word to encompass this script. It is silly, almost slapstick during many of the shenanigans as experienced during a brawl between the girls – in the sacred foyer of the church, no less! (This is a little over-the-top) Sill, there is also some heart behind the story through Maria and Sara’s friendship – something that grows into a genuine relationship. During their quest to do good by their fellow citizens, the girls learn some valuable lessons about teamwork and friendship. Most of the costuming is also gorgeous, even though the girls are mainly dressed in western wear; the detail on Sara’s clothing, especially is lovely. Combining the elements (humor and the 1800’s west) writers did was an interesting mix of genres – maybe even a bit risky but it works. Visiting the old-west was never so fun.