You probably missed the charmingly goofy Bandidas when it was released last fall — it landed in as an “exclusive” at a single multiplex chain (Cinema Latino Theatres), which sounds like a euphemism for “let’s fulfill our contractual obligation for a theatrical release and then rush this puppy onto DVD.” Which isn’t really fair: there’s a lot to like here, if you don’t think too deeply about any of it.
Salma Hayek (Ask the Dust) and Penelope Cruz (Volver) are totally adorable as, respectively, a spoiled brat and a farmgirl in turn-of-the-20th century Mexico whom circumstance turn buddy bank robbers with a revolutionary zeal. Each has a cute frill — Salma hiccoughs a lot, even when she’s saying, “Stick ‘em up!”; Penelope talks to horses, and they listen to her — to make her even more endearing, if possible. They’ve got Sam Shepherd as their Ben Kenobi, who teaches them the tao of righteous outlawry, and Dwight Yoakam as the greasy bad guy to battle. Nascent feminism fuels their tongue-in-cheek crime spree — Hayek throws off her corset, literally and figuratively, in one scene, and teaches Cruz how a real woman kisses… with kissee Steve Zahn, as the early CSI nerd they’ve kidnapped. (Sorry if I got you worked up, guys: this is solid PG stuff; there’s no naked boobs, and no girl-on-girl action. There is, however, a catfight between the two gals, albeit a fully clothed one.)
Think Salma as Butch and Penelope as Sundance — there’s even an I-can’t-swim joke lifted wholesale from that classic film — but do ratchet down your expectations if you’re hoping for the kind of movie magic Newman and Redford gave us. If that’s what you want, then your best bet is to go straight to the source and simply to rent Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Which is always a best bet. No wonder everyone steals from this fantastically entertaining film: it’s still ahead of its time, almost 40 years after it was made, and it’s still the best buddy action comedy ever made. Spare and lean, it almost seems, when you look at it today, like a reaction to all the overblown buddy action comedies that followed, a getting back to basics. But of course, it came first, it was the “basics,” and everything that’s come after it has been forced to try to distinguish itself from its unimprovable progenitor with unnecessary flourishes and flounces: massive explosions, slapstick antics, whatever. And nothing that’s come after has genuinely distinguished itself at all.
If you haven’t seen this one in a while, then do yourself a favor and remind yourself how damn good it is, and how the phrase screen chemistry surely was invented for the inspired pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. If you’ve never seen the film at all, then do yourself an even bigger favor and check it out now, before you endure another poor imitator, or even a good imitator. But be warned: it will ruin you for buddy action comedies forever.