Thursday, September 22, 2022

Bandit, Co-Starring Mel Gibson

Robert Whiteman racked up more frequent flyer points than George Clooney in Up in the Air. That was one of the perks of being “The Flying Bandit,” aside from all the free money banks gave him (not voluntarily). He was a good bluffer, who carefully prepared for each heist, but the security of Canadian banks also looks invitingly lax, at least judging from Allan Ungar’s Bandit, which releases tomorrow in theaters and on-demand.

Gilbert Galvan, Jr. was a small-time crook, who headed north in 1985, after escaping from an American minimum-security prison. He adopted the name Whiteman after buying a homeless derelict’s ID to get a job selling popsicles. Poor Det. Snydes might have been saved a great deal of aggregation if the popsicle company had not decided to down-size their bike-cart operation. Instead, he started using techniques he picked up from a theatrical costume store to rob banks, while romancing Andrea, the evening admitting clerk at the homeless shelter he is crashing at. That is definitely a power move.

Whiteman gets plenty of insight into Canadian bank security practices just by asking. Seriously, this story is so Canadian. Of course, Galvan/Whiteman cannot keep knocking over banks in the same town where he wants to make a life with his new girlfriend. To properly expand his business, he takes a loan from Tommy Kay, the local gangster-fence, who becomes his business partner. Soon, Whiteman/Galvan is jet-setting across Canada, holding up branches of his favorite national bank.

Even though Galvan was born here, Kay and Syndes are probably the characters American viewers will most identify with. It certainly helps that Mel Gibson plays Kay with such impish glee. He really has become the go-to guy to elevate okay VOD thrillers to the next level.

On the other hand, Josh Duhamel is weirdly milquetoast as Galvan/Whiteman, in a way that does not weather so well. Likewise, as Andrea, Elisa Cuthbert is stuck with a largely nothing role. However, Nestor Carbonell is colorfully hardboiled as the hard-charging Snydes. Fans of the original
Wonder Years and Conan the Destroyer should also keep an eye out for Olivia d’Abo appearing as the bartender at Kay’s strip club (it is a small role, but she looks comfortable with the roguish Gibson).

Generally, Ungar does a nice job recreating the 1980s milieu, but his attempts at ironic commentary on Reaganism fall distractingly flat. Still, Robert Knuckle’s adapted true crime screenplay is such an unlikely picaresque yarn, it keeps viewers intrigued by each stranger-than-fiction development. Earning a moderate recommendation as a low-stress weekend stream (thanks in large measure to Gibson),
Bandit releases tomorrow (9/23).