Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStars, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: German DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, Spanish, French, single side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 110 min., $27.95, street date 3/21/2000.
Directed by Katja Von Garnier. Starring Jutta Hoffman, Hannes Jaenicke, Nicolette Krebitz, Katja Riemann, Werner, Schreyer, Jasmine Tabatabai.
Bandits is an exciting, fast-paced, rock and roll movie following the exploits of an all-female band on the run.
Four women behind bars with nothing in common except their love for rock music form a jailhouse band as part of their rehabilitaion. On the night of their first gig at a police banquet, the women overpower a sadistic guard and escape into the night. An agent, who had originally rejected their demo, launches their tape onto the public and overnight, they become media sensations. As the rebles become more successful than their wildest dreams, the police step up their hot pursuit. But it's hard to keep a low profile when your music and videos are everywhere.
As I've noted in some of my other reviews, one interesting aspect of writing these articles comes from the fact that I often receive promotional copies of DVDs from studios. We get a variety of titles, and I occasionally obtain movies about which I know absolutely nothing.
Bandits falls firmly into the category of "unknowns." For some reason, I knew it was a foreign film, but for some reason I assumed it was Indian (guess I confused it with Bandit Queen). Nope - it's German, not that the country of origin has much to do with the final product.
Bandits really is a tremendously derivative film. The story tells of four female prison escapees; they had formed a band and reach fame during their flight through the combination of their music and their notoriety. Clearly the picture owes a tremendous debt to Thelma and Louise, another tale of female outlaws. The parallels are extensive, from the "bandits" refusal to use actual severe violence to their dalliance with a guy who bears some resemblance to the Brad Pitt character in that movie to the semi-ambiguous ending (which also echoes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); Bandits isn't a straight copy of TAL, but the similarities are quite clear.
The main twist comes from the musical aspect of the movie. Because of the songs, Bandits avoids being a just a rip-off of Thelma and Louise; instead it also rips off plenty of rock movies. The opening of the film blatantly steals from the audition scenes in The Commitments, and the early use of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" seems awfully reminiscent of U2's Rattle and Hum.
The thievery doesn't stop there. Much of the movie's montage depictions of the Bandits strongly reminded me of A Hard Day's Night, and while another Beatles film - Let It Be clearly influenced the film's climactic rooftop concert. That portion of the movie even managed to steal from another concert picture: when the Bandits start their show with some solo drumming from each member, the rhythmic patterns and the visual style definitely echo the opening of Prince's brilliant Sign O the Times.
All that, and I haven't even mentioned that the film's inherent concept seems awfully indebted to McCartney's "Band On the Run". (Oh - I guess I just did!) The music itself seems unlikely to come from a cheesy jail band; it sounds mostly like imitation Garbage. Bandits is a film that I probably shouldn't have liked, largely because of all this stealing but also due to many other problems. The film frequently seems ridiculous and implausible. After all, these women are on the lam but they go out of their way to be as public and as noticed as possible. The cops are completely clueless and have incredible trouble capturing them, which just seems terribly hard to believe.
The characters themselves tend to be cardboard cutouts and they have little room to expand; they grow some over the course of the film but not a lot, and they're never terribly interesting. There's the angry one, and the cute one, and the smart one, and the shy one - that's about the extent of the characterizations. The pacing is decent but not spectacular, and the movie uses lots of quick cuts and MTV-style edits to make things seem more exciting.
However, although my review to this point makes it sound like I hated Bandits, I didn't; I actually found it to be a rousing, somewhat exciting and emotional experience while I watched it. The movie pushes all the right buttons while it's on screen, and it makes for an entertaining film.
The problem stems from the fact that Bandits really is a very manipulative, nonsensical movie. I got caught up in it while I watched it, but once I came down off of that high, the positive sentiment quickly faded. Put simply, this is not a film that stands up to scrutiny. There's far too much wrong with it to still feel positive about it once the adrenaline fades and the brain kicks in. Although Bandits shares little else with movies like Armageddon, it's similar in that both films evoked responses for which I later felt stupid; I liked them but I hated myself afterwards.
Bandits appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Bandits presents an very inconsistent picture that ranges from virtually flawless to pretty bad at various times.
Sharpness is one of the erratic factors of the film. The first fourth or so of the movie looks quite bad, with a consistently soft and hazy image. However, after that point, things largely clear up; some softness continues to intrude from time to time, but never with the severity that we see during the early going. On no occasions did I note any moiré effects or jagged edges.
Print flaws appear sometimes. Again, the earliest parts of the film are the worst; during those occasions, the movie looks quite grainy and I also saw a rather large hair at one point. After the first fourth of the film, I didn't see any other significant defects like the hair - though some modest speckling occurs - but the picture still seemed moderately grainy at times.
Colors generally seem pretty vivid and can be quite stunning at times; the film's conclusion uses a rose-colored tint that creates a gorgeous impression. Black levels tend to be a little mushy and gray in the early going but get deeper and richer as the movie continues, and shadow detail seems similarly fine. Lose the first quarter of this film and I'd have granted it a much higher picture rating. As it stands, I have to give it a "C+" but that's not a grade that demonstrates the picture's quality from beginning to end.
Much better is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bandits. As seems appropriate for such a music-based movie, the audio blasts the band's rock songs quite effectively from all five channels. Separation seems good as the various components of the tunes appear from all around and really create a nicely engulfing mix. Some effects also spread to the other channels from the center - we even hear some decent panning on occasion - but it's really the broadness of the music that makes this track good.
Quality seems consistently very strong. First and foremost, the songs appear clean and present with a nice punch; low end seems strong and the rest of the spectrum comes across precisely and smoothly. Dialogue is fairly natural and clear and appears intelligible (I know some German, so I was better able to judge this than I can for languages I don't comprehend). Effects were realistic and sharp, and the whole package lacked distortion. All in all, it's a fine soundtrack that helps make the film much more compelling.
One comment about the soundtrack: as I sort of alluded in the last paragraph, the only audio available on this DVD is the film's original German track, which can be supplemented with English, Spanish and/or French subtitles. I'm not a fan of subtitles, but these weren't too intrusive, mainly because Bandits isn't a very dialogue-oriented film; there's a fair amount of speech, but it's still largely propelled by the music. Anyway, I just wanted to make it clear that no English dub of the movie appears on this DVD.
Bandits isn't a full-fledged special edition, but it does offer a few supplemental features. Most prominent is the audio commentary from director Katja Von Garnier. Although this is a fairly informative track and Von Garnier seems pleasant and engaging, I didn't like the commentary for one simple reason: I couldn't stand to hear Bandits discussed. As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn't hold up well to scrutiny, so to subject it to this level of analysis and attention forces it to collapse like a house of cards. I can't fault Von Garnier's discussion for any specific reason, but I must admit that it actually made me like the movie less, which is not a good thing.
A few other extras round out the package. We get the traditional theatrical trailer for Bandits itself plus promos for fellow Kraut flick Run Lola Run and music-oriented pictures SpiceWorld and Still Crazy. Two music videos from Bandits themselves also appear. "Catch Me" features a little of the traditional lip-synching/emoting plus a lot of film clips, whereas "Puppet" takes the opposite approach; it includes a minor amount of movie footage but is mainly a semi-conceptual performance piece. (The women are rigged up as though they were marionettes for much of the video.)
It may be recommendation time, but you're on your own. I loved Bandits and I hated it. I want to watch it again right now and I want to ditch the DVD from my collection. How can I possibly offer a concrete recommendation based on such opposing opinions? The DVD's picture has some flaws, but the sound is good - you can take it from there.
Current as of 4/4/2000
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