From the start, Allan Ungar’s “Bandit” takes the wrong storytelling route, in both its screenplay and casting of the lead role.
Kraig Wenman adapted Ed Arnold and Robert Knuckle’s novel “The Flying Bandit: Bringing Down Canada’s Most Daring Armed Robber,” morphing this undeniably exciting true tale into a comedy of errors, sort of. Sadly, the true error is in the screenplay.
The film is based on the life of Gilbert Galvan, an escaped American convict who traveled across Canada robbing fifty-nine banks and jewelry stores of over two million dollars until his capture in the late eighties..
Galvan’s true story is an interesting one and should have been fertile ground to examine the type of person for whom the thrill of the heist is more important than the score.
Josh Duhamel stars as Galvan, who begins the film stating he was born into his life of crime, as he came from a broken home and lives in a time of economic unease and corporate greed (the Regan-era eighties).
Galvan escapes from an American jail and flees to Canada, where he hones his bank robbing skills.
While there, he meets Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), a social worker who falls in love with him.
Cuthbert brings improvements to a badly written character. She is a competent actress and does her best to trudge through her pedestrian dialogue while trying to survive ridiculous moments such as when Andrea finds out about her man’s criminal tendencies.
Andrea accompanies Galvan on a heist to observe how he does it. After witnessing his crimes, she conveniently mentions that banks are bad and gives him her blessing. Secondly, Andrea nonchalantly reveals the two have a child on the way, but the film does nothing with it all and there is no dramatic arc given to the character or her plight.
Another chance at social commentary is fumbled.
Nestor Carbonell is Detective Snydes, driven to bring Galvan down for years. Snydes sweats trying to get department funds to piece together a small task force to bring this guy down. Carbonell is fine and his role is one of only two that’s grounded in reality.
The other is loan shark/strip joint owner Tommy Kay played by Mel Gibson, who brings the film some much-needed class. Mel plays his role down to earth and relatable yet still able to sound off against the music of Boy George while punching a guy in the face for being late with his payments.
Gibson finds a compassionate side to Tommy. This is no Tarantino-esque creation who speaks in pop culture monologues, but a businessman who doesn’t like violence or danger and who takes a shine to Galvan. This man respects honesty and family and friendship and Gibson brings the character off beautifully. His presence is the best thing about the film.
Josh Duhamel seems to believe he has charisma. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The actor rolls through the film as if he were auditioning to be the next Chevy Chase, wisecracking and strutting around, trying too hard to charm. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the skills and his performance falls flat, rendering the already unlikeable lead character more so.
The film goes on and on, tripping over its tonal shifts and landing on uneven terrain.
First the film is played for straight humor, then goofy humor followed by pathos, romance, and heavy drama.
The soundtrack is plastered with pop tunes of the era until the ridiculous use of Lynyrd Skynyrd “Freebird” in what the film apparently hopes to be its most moving moment.
Borrowing from Scorsese’s sometimes ironic use of music, Spielberg’s “Catch Me if You Can,” and even throwing in a reference to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Ungar never finds a proper balance, doing everything he can to keep our interest.
“Bandit” fails on most levels, its major sin being the screenplay’s disappointing lack of interest in getting to the motivations of the lead character.
As is, Ungar’s film is middle-of-the-road mediocre. A picture about an interesting subject crafted without passion or a discernible style.