What do you get when you combine two beautiful women, a Western movie, Mexico, and a whole bunch of bank robbing? When the two beautiful women are Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz and the movie is Bandidas, you get a whole lot of fun.
You can ignore the cover of the DVD dressing them in black so they look like some sort of Western bondage chics. This is your classic Western buddy movie, except the two leads are women instead of men. They fight over the guy (Quentin, played by Steve Zahn), rob banks, fight each other, rob some more banks, kill some bad guys, and in the meantime stop a nefarious plot to steal the people’s land and build a railway.
The bad guys are your usual collection of miscreants and inbred wonders led by Dwight Yoakam in a black wig and a great sneer. His Tyler Jackson will be remembered as a great scenery-chewing villain a la Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham in the annals of film history.
Now I’m getting ahead of myself here a bit, so I’ll back up and fill you in on the story. It seems to be set sometime in the 19th century when the railways are still expanding across North America. An American business tycoon is making a bid to run his railroad across a good chunk of Mexico. In order to do that he needs to buy up the land owned by a bunch of small farmers.
The mortgages are all owned by a Mexican Bank owned by Sara’s (Hayek) daddy. The tycoon sends his henchman, Jackson, down to execute an unfriendly takeover of the bank so he can take possession of the mortgages and foreclose on them. At first they just buy out the bank and raise the interest on the mortgages to loan shark rates until all the poor farmers renege on their payments. This leads to a calling-in of loans with great finality. A bullet and a house fire usually ensure there won’t be any arguments further down the road about questionable business practices.
Maria (Cruz) is the daughter of one of those farmers who gets run off his land. She swears vengeance on the bank that killed her father and heads into town to rob it. Meanwhile, back at the hacienda, Sara comes home to find her daddy dead and Jackson standing over his dead body. “He died of a heart attack” just doesn’t cut it for her. When she goes after Jackson with a knife, he decides she needs to rest up in her room and sends two guards with her.
Naturally she escapes on her trusty horse and flees into the desert. As she sits there crying for her father, she steals herself and decides to go and rob his bank, but whom should she run into while robbing it but Penelope. They are just about to get into a big argument about who gets to rob the bank when the manager warns them of impending trouble on the way: Jackson and company.
After their initial disagreement (about what to do with the money) almost destroys the church they are hiding in, the priest leads them to where he had hidden the survivors of the land thieves. Sara undergoes an epiphany and decides they must help the people by robbing banks and giving the money over to them so they can get their land back.
They are off to the races. They make a brief stop at Bill Buck’s (Sam Shepard), a retired bank robber, so he can put them through bank robber’s boot camp – then they set out on their life of crime. They are so successful that the tycoon up in the States sends his son-in-law a criminologist (an early form of pathologist; think CSI-NY 1856) to help catch the fearsome duo. He turns out to be Quentin (Zahn).
The girls use their womanly charms (which both Salma and Penelope have plenty of if you have been in a coma for the last ten years and had not noticed) and the truth to convert Steve to their side and the story rides to its inevitable conclusion. The showdown with the bad guy and the good girls ridding off into the sunset, places to go, people to see, and banks to rob.
Like all buddy pictures, this one works because of the wonderful chemistry between Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. They are having so much fun working together and making this movie that you can’t help but be taken along for the ride. There is the obvious advantage that both women are eye-poppingly gorgeous, but they are also a treat as characters and make it impossible not to like them.
Bandidas is a movie in the great tradition of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, the Western outlaw buddy picture. The DVD comes with a short featurette, and in it Salma Hayek says she and Penelope Cruz came up with the idea for the movie because they had always wanted to work together and decided to take matters into their own hands.
This movie isn’t going to make any great political statements or cause you to have to think overly hard, but at the same time its very existence is something of a quiet revolution. How often are there any movies made where the two leads are women, and the primary concern isn’t their love lives? Just like any other Western buddy movie, you can see them walking into a saloon together, watching each others backs, drinking whisky, and maybe grabbing a guy to take upstairs with them for a while.
This movie is a lot of fun and it is far better entertainment than many of the more heavily publicized films in your local video rental store. The DVD contains both wide screen and full screen versions and sound in 5.1 English and Spanish. As well as the previously mentioned featurette, it also comes with an audio commentary by Selma and Penelope that you can listen to while watching the movie.
If you miss the old buddy movies where two actors play off each other with the ease of long friendship and great camaraderie, then I can’t recommend Bandidas highly enough. Sit back and enjoy an hour and a half of pure action and fun.