Josh Duhamel & Co. teeter along the fine line between “heist picture” and “caper comedy” with “Bandit,” a Canadian production about the Michigander who gained lasting Canadian fame as “The Cross Country Bandit,” or “The Flying Bandit,” depending on which Canadian newspaper you were reading in the ’80s.
It’s a long “true story” that folds “How I robbed banks and jewelry stores” tutorials into a sometimes cutesy account of this spree that relies on Duhamel’s charm, and the bandit’s passion for disguises. And even if it bogs down in the middle acts — seriously bogs down — and has missing pieces of the story puzzle even as it takes pains to show us what would be his downfall, this Allan Ungar dramedy plays. More or less.
Framed by the heist that brought him down, we meet young Gilbert Galvan in a Detroit “top five courtroom I’ve ever been in…I mean, look at those crown moldings!” He’s a smart aleck adrenalin junky with a yen for voice-over narration.
“Two of my favorite words? ‘Minimum security.’ But my top three? ‘Welcome to Canada!”
In a flash he’s escaped from prison, crossed the border and struggling to “go straight” in Ottawa. But that’s a struggle. When he takes up with the monitor (Elisha Cuthbert) of the homeless shelter where he has to rough it, “Robert Whiteman,” his purchased “identity,” has to get back into the life.
His brilliant idea? He’ll rob banks “Out West,” Vancouver and environs. He takes makeup classes from a local acting troupe and starts to wear wigs, fake noses and hard hats for his heists. When he’s boarding the plane with a suitcase full of cash, he’s business class, all the way.
Fun fact. “The average bank job only nabs about $20,000.” He burns through that in a flash, every time. If he wants to score big, he’ll have to do lots of bank jobs. He’ll need a local strip-club owner/fence (Mel Gibson) to stake him. And he’ll need to start robbing jewelry stores, too.
Nestor Carbonell plays a cop obsessed with bringing down the fence who adds this “cross country bandit” we see in headlines to his obsession. One thing we don’t see if how the cops figure out this guy is flying cross country for armed robberies. The girlfriend-turned-wife transitions from “gullible” to “accomplice” in a cinematically sloppy way.
North Dakota native Duhamel wears this fellow’s guise easily, an American used to working around armed bank guards in the U.S. reveling in Canadian security guards — “John Candy with f—–g mace.”
Gibson smokes and twinkles in his dimly-lit strip club, commenting on Boy George the person and the pop music of the day in phrases that you’d imagine Mel Gibson would have uttered back in the ’80s.
The soundtrack, packed with upbeat pop, rock and a little downbeat soul, contributes to a generally jaunty air.
The capers have this or that original touch, but showing us bits of scores upon scores of them, they grow repetitive and as domestic life, police turf struggles and routine settle in, the middle acts drag “Bandit” to a halt. The finale is drawn out as well.
Still, if you like Duhamel and aren’t boycotting Gibson’s un-canceled career, it’s worth a look.
Rating: R for language throughout and some sexual material/nudity.
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Nestor Carbonell, Olivia D’Abo, Keith Arthur Bolden and Mel Gibson
Credits: Directed by Allan Ungar, scripted by Kraig Wenman, based on a book by Robert Knuckle. A Quiver release.
Running time: 2:05