January 17, 2007
Considering the two movie stars that headline this project, it is somewhat surprising that 20th Century Fox decided to quietly release Bandidas (2006) straight to video in North America. While Salma Hayek is not the box office draw she once was, her co-star Penelope Cruz is red hot right now thanks to an excellent performance in Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (2006). Bandidas is essentially a popcorn movie that would be ideal for mainstream, multiplex audiences so what’s the deal?
A rich tycoon has 90 days to build a lucrative railway line through the heart of Mexico and enlists a disreputable enforcer by the name of Jackson (Yoakam) to make sure that there are no complications. This entails many poor farmers being kicked off their land or killed out right by Jackson and his gang. When one farmer is critically wounded and his house burned down, his feisty daughter Maria (Cruz) decides to take action. She sneaks onto the local land owner’s estate in order to get her father’s land back and runs into his daughter Sara (Hayek) who has recently returned from school in Europe.
Sara witnesses Jackson’s methods in getting rid of the farmers and returns home to find him standing over her father’s dead body – apparently from a heart attack. With Jackson now in control of her father’s estate, Sara escapes and before you can say Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, she and Maria become outlaws dedicated to ridding the land of the evil gringos (with help from an aging bank robber, played by Sam Shepard, who teaches them the tricks of the trade) by robbing American controlled banks. The two women bicker and banter their way through a series of misadventures with Quentin Cooke (Zahn), a bookish criminal investigator, along for the ride.
Bandidas trots out the usual clichés: the ornery horse, the bickering heroes (including the obligatory catfight), the despicable villain dressed in black, a mangy yet lovable dog sidekick and plenty of slapstick that is predictably broad and downright silly in nature. For example, Sara gets nervous whenever she holds a gun and begins to hiccup uncontrollably. The film is co-written and produced by Luc Besson and has the breezy comic vibe typical of many of his productions (The Transporter films, for example) complete with exciting action sequences and sketchy characterization.
But let’s face it, you’re not watching Bandidas for thoughtful character development but rather for the lovely leading ladies who have pretty decent chemistry together but are let down by the cliché-ridden (even by Besson’s standards), pedestrian screenplay. Cruz and Hayek provide the requisite eye candy but much to the dismay of their male fans the only nudity is courtesy of Steve Zahn. One wonders what this film would have been like in the capable hands of someone like Robert Rodriguez who has an innate understanding and knowledge of how genre films work but then again, he’s already visited this kind of material with his Mariachi trilogy which were essentially modern westerns. That being said, Bandidas is pleasant enough if not an instantly forgettable time waster.
There is an audio commentary by Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. It is pretty obvious from the way they talk to each other – the familiarity and casual shorthand – that they have been good friends for years. Hayek proudly says that they shot the entire movie in Mexico and she even points out the various locations. There are occasional lulls on this track but they aren’t too long as the two women recount anecdotes about filming and praise certain cast and crew members. Like the movie itself, this is a pleasant enough track but hardly essential listening.
“Burning Up the Set with Salma and Penelope” is a standard promotional featurette. The two actresses had always wanted to do a film together but never found the right project until they met with Besson about doing a western/comedy. They talk about their characters and the story with several clips from the movie peppered throughout this extra.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.