Terry Gilliam, he of such inventive works as 1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and 1995's "Twelve Monkeys," is a filmmaker known more for offbeat style and quirky humor than emotional substance. Occasionally he strikes the jackpot with both, as in those former two movies, but by and large his films have the propensity to leave you more than a little cold. Two of his most popular cult items1981's "Time Bandits" and 1985's "Brazil"are but overrated blips on the cinematic radar, and Gilliam's long-delayed latest, "The Brothers Grimm," will be lucky to even hold that distinction.
An empty, artificial misfire with clear thematic ambitions that never materialize into anything of consequence, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (2005's "Skeleton Key
") imagines a fictional, fantastical version of where brothers Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) got the ideas for their classic fairy tales. Bumbling young frauds passing from town to town in a French-controlled early-19th century Germany, Will and Jacob fool people into believing they fight off evil mystical forces and then promptly take the money given to them for their services. When the village of Marbaden is beset with a series of baffling child disappearances, Will and Jacob's con game suddenly becomes a reality. Guided by the resourceful Angelika (Lena Headey), who knows the land and what it is capable of, they set off into the forest to unlock the darkly magical mysteries at work.
Putting the tried-and-true Grimms' fairy tales to film offers limitless exciting possibilities, which makes "The Brothers Grimm" all the more disappointing. Too silly to be taken seriously and win over older audiences, too dark and slow to entertain children, the picture lacks a target demographic that might actually enjoy the limited eye candy the movie has to offer. None of it is ever funnythe jokes, most of the dry, wannabe-acerbic variety, crash to the floor with a deafening thudor scarybuilding a feeling of apprehension is not director Terry Gilliam's strong spot this time aroundleaving the viewer left with two hours of dreary filler. The fairy tales referenced, while some used in interesting ways ("Rapunzel" and "Snow White," for example), mostly miss the boat in setting them up and paying them off. Hansel and Gretel, for instance, are now self-knowing siblings who openly discuss dodging a witch in a gingerbread house if they happen upon it. Alas, no witch or house made of candy is ever glimpsed. This happens time and time again, and to frustrating effect, where Gilliam boosts one's hopes up and then fails to meet expectations.
As brothers Will and Jacob Grimm, Matt Damon (2004's "The Bourne Supremacy
") and Heath Ledger (2005's "Lords of Dogtown
") are a pair-up who rarely, if ever, seem to connect with one another and come off as real brothers. In fact, it takes a full hour before (1) a driving plot is uncovered, and (2) the realization sets in that this is a motion picture starring Damon and Ledger. As fine of actors as they can be, they are just as synthetic this time around. The rest of the performersLena Headey (having a bad last week of August with the concurrent release, "The Cave
") as Angelika; Monica Bellucci (2003's "The Matrix Reloaded
") as the narcissistic Mirror Queen; and a nearly unrecognizable Peter Stormare (2005's "Constantine
") as the Napoleonic Cavaldiappear to each be starring in separate films with different ideas on what they are trying to do; even when they are on screen together, they might as well be on different coasts of the country. Part of the problem may be how weakly developed these characters are, as no amount of talent could possibly shield the deficiencies within the dreary script and direction.
Flatly photographed by Newton Thomas Sigel (2003's "X2
") and holding some amazingly chintzy computer effects for what was a nearly $100-million project (the herky-jerky unconvincing werewolf makes the creatures from 2005's "Cursed
" look like the real thing), "The Brothers Grimm" is missing all of the essential aspects a film requires, such as memorable characters, an involving story, and a point (even successful popcorn movies hold an important elementary purposeto entertain, plain and simple). With embarrassing forest sets that appear to have been filmed in a city warehouse, to boot, it fails even to get the technical elements right. The real reason "The Brothers Grimm" took so long to arrive in theaters is suddenly crystal clear; the finished product is an aimless chore to sit through in desperate need of a human pulse and a shot of adrenaline.