Directed by Allan Ungar.
Starring Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Mel Gibson, Nestor Carbonell, Olivia d’Abo, Haley Webb, Swen Temmel, Keith Arthur Bolden, Claire Bronson, Michael H. Cole, and Lorenzo Yearby.
After escaping a Michigan prison, a charming career criminal assumes a new identity in Canada and goes on to rob a record 59 banks and jewelry stores while being hunted by a police task force. Based on the story of The Flying Bandit.
Bandit opens with an on-screen graphic announcing the setting as London, 1988 before whimsically and emphatically clarifying the country in question is Canada, not the United Kingdom. Director Allan Ungar (with a script from Kraig Wenman, based on the novel detailing the real-life story, The Flying Bandit by Robert Knuckle) simultaneously introduces viewers to Gilbert Galvan Jr and his alias Robert Whiteman (Josh Duhamel) in action as an endearing, calm, master of disguise, serial bank robber. There’s the typical narration about how people aren’t born bad, as a rather comedic heist takes place where no one gets hurt, and we already have some small affection for this pacifist criminal.
After getting away clean, the film jumps back five or so years to when Gilbert was a nobody, escaping a Michigan prison (locked up for check fraud) and hightailing it to Canada to start anew and relatively untouchable. Gilbert genuinely wants an honest life, buying a homeless man’s ID for cheap (something that the stylistic graphics go out of their way to assure viewers happened), taking up a dead-end job selling ice cream, at least before the truck moves away. During that time, he also meets easy-going social worker Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), who has one rule; don’t sell her bullshit.
With his heart in the right intention, Gilbert (still going by the name Robert Whiteman even around his newfound girlfriend) decides that the best way to provide in this relationship is to get back into the criminal activity sphere, upping his game by robbing small banks around Canada. There is practically no security compared to American banks, not to mention a relatively secure tactic of using regional flights to make a dash while carrying the money (such flights don’t check personal luggage).
For good measure, Gilbert/Robert also earns his way into the good graces of drug lord Tommy (Mel Gibson, introduced as a lunatic ranting about Boy George and the good days of music). Also, his bank robbing frequency ramps up considerably upon excitedly learning that he will be a father.
Something also stuck out while taking a look at director Allan Ungar’s film credits thus far: he helmed the live-action Uncharted short film (not to be confused with that dumpster fire starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg looking for treasure in a Papa John’s or whatever the hell was going on in there), which doubled as a test screening for Nathan Fillion in the Indiana Jones-like treasure hunting role of Nathan Drake.
Between the in medias res opening, the charming thief lead (if the script gave Josh Duhamel more jokes and one-liners, the character would have been a version of Nathan Drake), keeping secrets from the love interest, and a lighthearted tone amid serious situations, the filmmaker appears to be still in that mode (which will also make sense considering he didn’t get to make an actual Uncharted adaptation).
Setting aside that observation, Bandit is moderately engaging throughout but never cracks into anything meaningful or compelling regarding these character dynamics. There’s a moment where the entertaining antics especially come alive, with Andrea aware of the bank robberies (and cool with it since she believes in puncturing the system, especially one under Richard Nixon rife with economic stagnation and low job opportunities) and present when Robert pulls one off.
Aside from that, she’s typically offscreen, being a housewife/stay-at-home mom. It also helps when we bear witness to these robberies (unfortunately, most of them are wedged into a montage that’s more concerned with showing off the admittedly funny costumes and various accents Josh Duhamel uses in disguise); they are cleverly staged with intriguing distraction techniques.
Bandit is based on a true story and real people, so eventually, the lifestyle becomes increasingly risky and takes a turn for the dramatic (there’s a police force of two determined to bring Tommy down, which naturally puts Gilbert in their crosshairs by association), but the characters never feel deep enough to elicit emotion (which is surprising since, at over two hours, it feels like the film should easily accomplish that).
The initial romance comes across as rushed, but the chemistry between Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert saves it. Even the danger of being associated with a career criminal like Tommy doesn’t raise the stakes much (if anything, it feels like plenty of scenes involving that circle of characters were left on the cutting room floor). This also forces the narrative to set aside some of its more fun, wackier aspects.
Still, the overall ride is worth taking; Josh Duhamel is comfortable in the role and is easy to cheer on despite his crimes since he does want to do right by the ones he loves. It’s a strange and kooky true story with a sense of humor. And maybe Josh Duhamel should have been Nathan Drake, teaming up with Allan Ungar, but I suppose Bandit will suffice.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com