It’s the 1890’s in Mexico and a sinister villain (Dwight Yoakam) is stealing land from the locals and killing innocents. This heartless land barron has upended the lives of two women (Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek) who have very different backgrounds. One is upper class, spoiled and comes from a wealthy family (Hayek), the other is a poor, uneducated farm girl (Cruz).
The one thing they both have in common is Yoakam has targeted both their fathers – he manages to kill one, but the other survives. This upsets these two women immensely and they’re both now ready to unleash revenge against him. What better way to get back at this baddie than to team up, rob the banks he’s seized control of and give the money back to the people where it belongs.
Bandidas is as straight forward a star vehicle as you can get. The story is really nothing special and it doesn’t set out to reinvent the western genre or try to do anything new with it. It is simply designed to be a lightweight western/comedy showcase for the two popular and attractive actresses to team-up onscreen. That seems like the biggest motivation behind its existence.
It’s almost feels like a throwback to the ‘cop buddy’ movies of the 1980’s, when the main hook was the team up of two well liked actors.
They’d take two recognizable, popular actors, pair them up, plug them into a generic cop/action movie and watch them bicker and get into action scenes with each other. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (along with a script written by Luc Besson) kind of follow that same kind of philosophy.
If you’re looking to watch Cruz and Hayek ride horses, rob banks and look good while doing it, well then I’d have to say Bandidas delivers on that pledge. If you’re hoping to get anything deeper from Bandidas than that than you’ll be disappointed.
Cruz and Hayek are the draw here and the main point is to watch them perform with each other. And there’s really no surprises with the story once the film starts.
They meet each other, they don’t like each other, they get into catfights, they begrudgingly agree to work with each other, they go through bank robber training with the help of Sam Shepard and predictably they begin to like and trust each other.
That’s pretty much the story and how you envision it unfolding is probably pretty close to how it all happens. Bandidas doesn’t offer the most challenging roles the actresses have had. I don’t think either actress would say it’s a tall feather in their career caps. They might have had fun making the movie, and that’s what the movie is meant to be for the viewer – just fun. Just a harmless, Saturday night popcorn of entertainment.
A special criminal investigator Steve Zahn is hired by Yoakam to catch the pair. The tables turn though when he joins up with them after he realizes they’re fighting for good and wants to help them defeat the baddies. He provides a lot of comedy of relief, but tries way too hard mugging and clowning for my taste. I just found him annoying after a certain point.
At one point Zahn is tied naked to a bed and used as kissing practice for the pair as Hayek instructs the naive Cruz how to kiss a man and make him never forget you. The scene is also an excuse to get Hayek and Cruz to wear sexy showgirl outfits and display their famed cleavage. It’s a nice break from seeing them in their cowgirl wear and their male fans will surely enjoy watching them parade around in their attire.
Bandidas offers up silly comedy. Loyal horses and cute dogs, Hayek getting the hiccups when she’s nervous, the pair criticizing each other and squabbling. That’s the type of comedy the movie offers.
Meanwhile Yoakam plays up his evil character as much as he can to make us dislike him. He practically twirls his dark mustache every chance he gets.
A team up of Hayek and Cruz could be an idea that you’d think was dreamed up in an icy pitch meeting. “We’ll team up those two hot Latina ladies in a western comedy! With those two gorgeous ladies on the poster the movie can’t lose!”
You’ll notice on the poster (and in the film) they did that diagonal ‘Steve McQueen/Paul Newman Towering Inferno‘ credit format for Cruz and Hayek’s names to give them duel top billing. I wonder if the actresses insisted on that.
Fortunately, Hayek and Cruz do make a fun duo. They willfully run through a ‘Butch and Sundance’ relationship and click better than you might cynically predict. Their star power and charm carries the film and they have a good time playing mismatched opposites against each other. Pretty much the whole movie hangs on them being paired up and they deliver as a fun, beautiful pair of outlaws.
Their also helped along with the action scenes that do offer up some entertaining moments. There’s the alarmed bank floor they have to get past, an escape through an exploding bank roof and what do you know the gals have to rob a train. And it’s all fine. Plus, the film has an enjoyable bouncy score by Eric Serra.
They could have done without a poor, slo-mo- shootout sequence that is heavily assisted by CGI. Sam Peckinpah is ain’t.
When sitting down to watch Bandidas I was bracing myself for a real rocky ride. I had heard it didn’t have a stellar reputation and the critics bashed it when it was first released, but I think they were being overly harsh. It’s just a harmless western comedy. It’s like Charlie’s Angels in saddles. And I have to say I enjoyed it much more than the more serious 1994 all-women western starrer Bad Girls.
Would I recommend Bandidas? Well, if you’re a fan of Cruz and Hayek you might want to check it out for the novelty of their casting together. And if you’re game for a B-movie, bubblegum type of entertainment you could have more fun than you anticipate from it. It doesn’t really try to hide what it is, so you should know full well what you’ll be getting from Bandidas.
There is left open a possible sequel at the end of Bandidas, but so far a follow-up hasn’t happened. If they ever decide to make ‘Bandidas 2’, I would check it out.