A romance of three complex neurotics — an odd couple of bank robbers and a housewife — Bandits satirizes our love affair with crime. But while the facets of its three-dimensional characters shine, often brilliantly, its cleverness at times only disguises the plot contrivances that set them in motion.

Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) wakes up one morning tired of sleeping in prison. Prowling the exercise yard like a caged lion with his unlikely buddy, Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton), he spots an idle cement truck. A few minutes, a knocked-out guard and a crashed prison gate later, Joe’s tearing a path through suburban backyards — with Terry along for the ride — toward a bank heist and a soft hotel bed.

What Terry lacks in courage is made up for in brains. With his expansive portfolio of phobias, he must be a genius. He’s a bundle of nerves strung tighter than a violin, and Joe plays him like a fiddle when they vie for Kate.

Imagine Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz as a neurotic, wealthy housewife and you have Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett). She’s not just a girl looking for a home, she’s the tornado and the witches, good or wicked at a whim. She falls in love with both Joe and Terry as if they make one perfect man with brains, courage and two hearts wild for her.

Bandits frames this love triangle (a lowbrow, American Jules and Jim — with guns) with a parody of the reality TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” With the film’s quirky characters and flashbacks, the shadow of Pulp Fiction (1994) seems to loom. But it’s a false alarm. These bandits aren’t that viciously ingenious. They’re as cute and cuddly as pet raccoons (gunfights and car crashes aside).

Ultimately, though, Bandits may be too clever to steal your heart.

Visit the official Bandits Web site at

E-mail James Keith La Croix at

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