Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek are two of the most beautiful women on the screen today, and they serve up a double helping of South of the Border sex and sizzle in BANDIDAS. The story is definitely B-grade, but once expectations are properly dialed in, it's a hoot watching Cruz and Hayek chew up the scenery as they play mismatched and hot-tempered Mexican women of the 1880s who are out for revenge.
Cruz stars as Maria Alvarez, the daughter of a dirt-poor farmer, while Hayek plays spoiled Sara Sandoval, the daughter of the region's richest man. When they first meet, neither of them like each other. But when Maria's father is gunned down and left for dead while their farm is taken from them and Sara's father is murdered in cold blood, they gradually bond for revenge.
Country star Dwight Yoakum stars as the bad guy, Tyler Jackson, whose in charge of getting a railroad ran through the heart of Mexico by whatever means it takes. Sam Shepard plays Bill Buck, a former bank robber who teaches Maria and Sara to rob banks and forge a friendship. Steve Zahn stars as Quentin Cooke, a forerunner in forensic detection that gets caught up in Maria and Sara's schemes. The film was produced and co-written by Luc Besson, who has headed up several action pictures such as THE PROFESSIONAL, THE TRANSPORTER, KISS OF THE DRAGON.
Seeking revenge, Sara and Maria start robbing all the banks Tyler Jackson has taken over. Each of them bring skills to their efforts. Maria has a trick horse that she plays tic-tac-toe with and can talk to. The horse also tells other horses what to do. She's also a great pistol shot. Sara, though she can simper over a manicure, is also a great planner and can be driven to see things through on a large scale.
Although this film isn't going to change your life or address any social problems in a meaningful way (although there is a line in the movie that basically says the United States should keep their noses in their own affairs), BANDIDAS is easy on the eyes and fun to watch. The plot takes predictable turns, but that's made up by the pacing. You see everything coming, but it happens so quickly that you're already onto the next thing in record time.
The predictable cat-fighting that goes on between the two leads doesn't get tiresome because it never takes itself seriously or overstays its welcome. Likewise with the kissing scene (although Steve Zahn must have loved the retakes) where they competed for Quentin Cooke's attention.
Everything comes comfortably together within ninety minutes, and the movie is a romp that involves sexy clothing, girls fighting, some real fighting, feats of derring-do that involve riding horses up ladders, swinging across courtyards, and blowing up buildings. The dialogue is brisk and fun.
BANDIDAS is a great buddy flick, and maybe even one for a light couples night because there's enough comedy and action to satisfy everyone.