Producers: Eric Gozlan, Jordan Yale Levine, Jordan Beckerman and Ryan D. Smith Director: Allan Ungar Screenplay: Kraig Wenman Cast: Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Nestor Carbonell, Swen Temmel, Olivia D’Abo, Dylan Flashner, Keith Arthur Bolden, Chiara d’Ambrosio, Michael Cole and Mel Gibson Distributor: Quiver Distribution
Based on a 1996 book by Robert Knuckle, “Bandit” tells the fact-based story of California-born Gilbert Galvan Jr., who, under the alias Robert Whitehead, committed fifty-nine robberies of banks and jewelry stores in Canada between 1985 and 1988, when he was arrested. The heists netted, it’s estimated, well over $2 million.
The strongest element the movie has going for it is an energetic lead performance by Josh Duhamel as Galvan/Whitehead—depicted as the sort of lovable rogue you root for even as he’s committing crimes. Kraig Wenman’s script breaks the fourth wall to allow Galvan to speak directly to the audience, and his cocksure monologues justifying everything he does—beginning when he’s introduced at trial in Michigan for check fraud and shown escaping a detention facility and fleeing to Canada—and flippantly denigrating the authorities who try to stop him, give him a carefree, cheeky quality it’s hard to resist. It doesn’t hurt that he also has a nice romance with Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), who works as gatekeeper at an Ottawa homeless shelter, with whom he settles down and fathers a child, making him a genuinely committed, sympathetic family man.
While not exuding charisma as some actors might in this role—his charm has an effortful feel to it—Duhamel acquits himself well enough to make Galvan an engaging antihero, who calculates how easy it is to use regular airline service to fly to distant cities (thus his press nickname “The Flying Bandit,” which is also the title of Knuckle’s book) and rob banks and stores in disguises that he quickly jettisons after the job is done, assuming the role of a chatty, nattily-attired businessman and flying back home with cash in his briefcase.
The movie drags somewhat as it recreates a number of Galvan’s robberies in detail, but it’s enlivened when he decides that he needs some financial backing to expand his operation and approaches Tommy Kay (Mel Gibson), a strip club owner who’s a loan-shark and fence on the side. The two become partners, and that’s what eventually leads to Galvan’s arrest. An intense cop named Snydes (Nestor Carbonell) has been investigating Kay’s business, and encounters Galvan in the course of his surveillance. That leads to the robber’s apprehension after the proverbial “one last job” he attempts after retiring; the picture actually begins with that robbery, the outcome of which comes later, and then segues into Galvan’s having to deal with his wife’s reaction to the revelation of his secret career (which, it’s suggested here, she was actually not unaware of).
Cuthbert is fine as Galvan’s wife, but Carbonell seethes a bit too intensely as the cop who doggedly pursues him. Meanwhile Gibson wins the supporting cast award simply by not trying too hard, portraying Tommy as an old hand at the game who’s happy to profit from another guy’s hard work but can turn menacing when a client fails to repay a loan on time. Once a near-pariah in Hollywood, he’s re-emerged to become a regular presence on screen again, though less often than was once the case in starring roles, and he’s making the most of his second chance.
On the technical side, “Bandit” is adequate, with a production design by Burns Burns that doesn’t overdo the period trappings and straightforward, unfussy cinematography by Alexander Chinnici. Despite frequent references to Boy George as a dating mechanism (Tommy can’t understand his popularity) and the use of “Oh Yeah” toward the close (a song we’ve heard too often since “Ferris Bueller”), the predictably jaunty score by Aaron Gilhuis adds a bit of punch to a film that, as directed by Allan Ungar and edited by Michael Lane and Ungar, comes across as a little tepid in pacing and rhythm for a heist movie. Certainly a bit of astute trimming could have reduced the running-time to something under two hours-plus.
Add it all up, and the result is a lighthearted if somewhat pedestrian caper movie that, anchored in Duhamel’s animated performance, is likable enough but saunters more often than it sprints.
By the way, while Galvan’s robbery count is impressive, one might note that it pales beside the no fewer than seventy-four producers (full, co-, executive, co-executive, associate and co-associate) listed in the closing crawls of this movie. If “Bandit” were ever to win an award and they all assembled to collect it, the stage would probably collapse under the weight. Given the picture’s modest quality, though, that’s unlikely to ever happen.