A big hit in its native Germany as well as throughout Europe, the spunky crowd-rouser has at its core one terrific premise -- a group of escaped female cons-turned-cult rockers find themselves avoiding the spotlight and a police dragnet while giving new meaning to Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
Although the rock 'n' roll fantasy road picture hits a couple of mucky snags along the way, the irresistible combination of "Thelma & Louise," "The Commitments" and "Caged Heat" could prove an attractive proposition for the likes of Jennifer Lopez or Madonna.
In the meantime, the original subtitled version, complete with its hard-driving, English-language soundtrack, should make a little art house noise for distributor Stratosphere Entertainment.
Von Garnier ("Making Up!") puts her directorial pedal to the metal from the get-go, as we find inmates Marie (Jutta Hoffmann), Angel (Nicolette Krebitz) and the tough Luna (Jasmin Tabatabai) rehearsing their songs in the prison chapel.
As luck would have it, they lose their drummer (she's paroled) just when they're booked by a campaigning politician to perform their first outside gig at the annual Policeman's Ball.
Enter the recently incarcerated Emma (Katja Riemann), a jazz musician with a mean sense of rhythm who is recruited by the band even though she and Luna initially butt heads. Settling on the name Bandits (they like how it combines the words, "band" and "tits"), they are taken to the gig but never quite make it to the stage.
Instead, due to some unfortunate circumstances involving their abusive escort, the Bandits end up hitting the road in a police van en route to Hamburg harbor and a South America-bound boat, making a pit stop at Gold Records, where their demo tape had been tossed in the trash prior to their newfound status as on-the-lam rock refugees.
Through a little forceful bargaining, they leave the office with a record deal and eventually pick up a willing American hostage (Werner Schreyer), while a cigarillo-puffing cop (Hannes Jaenicke) remains doggedly on their collective tail.
Working in collaboration with writers Ben Taylor and Uwe Wilhelm, von Garnier has created a group of strong, vivid female characters that are easy to root for. Riemann, one of her country's most popular film stars, along with Tabatabai, Krebitz and the maternal Hoffmann add to the charisma quotient significantly.
While there are places where von Garnier opts for a few too many prolonged periods of downtime, her direction generally, accompanied by Torsten Breuer's vigorous cinematography and Hans Funck's vivid editing, echoes the fast-forward urgency of her characters' predicament.
Last but not least, there are those contagious pop-rock songs, which were, for the most part, written by and sung by the actors. That the accompanying CD went on to become the biggest-selling soundtrack of any European film to date is also something that Warner Bros. should find intriguing.
An Olga Film production
co-produced by Vela X
in association with ProSieben
and Flach Film/Jean-Francois Lepetit
Director: Katja von Garnier
Writers: Katja von Garnier, Uwe Wilhelm
Based on an idea by: Katja von Garnier, Ben Taylor
Producers: Harry Kugler, Molly von Furstenberg, Elvira Senft
Director of photography: Torsten Breuer
Production designer: Susann Bieling
Editor: Hans Funck
Costumes: Claudia Bobsin
Music: the Bandits
Emma: Katja Riemann
Luna: Jasmin Tabatabai
Angel: Nicolette Krebitz
Marie: Jutta Hoffmann
Schwartz: Hannes Jaenicke
West: Werner Schreyer
Gold: Peter Sattmann
Running time -- 109 minutes
MPAA rating: R