Eric D. Snider

The Brothers Grimm

Terry Gilliam's first film in seven years, and what a mess he's made of it! "The Brothers Grimm" is not just weird, but randomly, elaborately weird. Much of the weirdness obviously took a lot of time and money to create, and to what end? Oddness is fun, but not for two whole hours, and not at the expense of the story. This has all the kooky trappings of a Monty Python flick, but without the punchlines. It's a total wreck.

Well, maybe not total. As ever in a fanciful Gilliam film -- we're talking "Time Bandits" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and "Twelve Monkeys" -- the production values are high, and the sets and costumes are imaginative. In this case, we are transported to the small villages and forests of early 19th-century French-occupied Germany, and the details -- the mud, the filth, the poverty -- feel accurate.

The film has a great premise, too, written by hack-of-the-year Ehren Kruger ("The Ring Two," "Skeleton Key"). The title brothers, Will (Matt Damon) and Jake (Heath Ledger), are con artists who travel the countryside ridding villages of witches, trolls and such -- all non-existent phenomena created by the Grimms themselves, of course, and they charge a handsome sum for exterminating the monsters.

Then they are caught in their lies by French general Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), and he makes them an offer they can't refuse: Help him root out the like-minded impostors who are tormenting the good people of nearby Marbaden, and he won't imprison the Grimms for their chicanery. Whoever is doing as the Grimms do in Marbaden is doing a good job of it, though. Ten girls have disappeared already, and everyone believes the forest is haunted.

The Grimms discover, as you might have guessed, that the supernatural events in Marbaden are not the work of people like them, but of actual, well, supernatural forces -- supernatural forces that they have no actual experience fighting. All the ghosts and goblins they've conquered in the past have been ones they made up.

A Marbaden girl named Angelika (Lena Headey, who also appears in this week's other crappy new release, "The Cave") guides the Grimms into the woods and may or may not fall in love with one or both brothers; the movie hedges its bets on that point. Her skill is knowing that if she gets lost in the forest, she can lick a particular toad and it will point the way home.

Yes, a toad. That's funky, that's goofy, and OK, whatever. But you cram your movie with one queer thing after another and you're going to wind up with an exhausting two hours. And that's exactly what Kruger and Gilliam have done here. The screenplay's story loses focus as soon as Angelika leads the boys into the woods, with bizarre, barely explained legends about rotting old queens and other ancient prophecies muddying the waters. So it's hard enough to follow what's going on, and then Gilliam compounds the problem with his exasperating refusal to cut out the daftness and just tell the damn story.

Here's a horse that spontaneously sprouts fangs; here are the Grimms inexplicably wearing bonnets; there's a boy being turned into a Gingerbread Man for no reason; there's a complicated, overdone basement-slash-torture-chamber where prisoners are suspended from the ceilings by their waists, and one guy is moaning in the background for no other reason than to BE DISTRACTING! SHUT UP!!

Which brings us to a subject on which I am afraid I will speak with much fervor, and that is the subject of how much I hated, hated, HATED Peter Stormare's performance in this movie. Stormare is a Swedish actor whose face you will recognize, whether you know his name or not. He's appeared in "Bad Boys II," "Minority Report," "Windtalkers," "Bad Company," "Chocolat," "Armageddon" ... the list goes on. He's a good actor, and usually a funny one on the rare occasions when he is called upon to be so.

In "The Brothers Grimm," he plays an Italian man named Cavaldi who is some kind of subordinate to Delatombe. He is meant as comic relief, but considering how much wackiness has already been shoehorned into this movie, what we could have used was some dramatic relief. Stormare steps, fetches, stammers, overacts, stumbles, cavorts, minces, gambols, pratfalls, bumbles, prances, flounces, capers and just generally makes a nuisance of himself. Not only are most of his actions baffling -- why does he tie up Angelika in one scene? -- but when he speaks, it is with too many loud, shouted lines, all in an exaggerated Italian accent, all full of stuttering, all adding up to nothing. He began to grate on my nerves every time he entered the frame. Even now, as I write this, I begin to clench up just remembering his frustrating, aggravating performance.

Damon and Ledger don't do any damage. This is all Gilliam's mistake to make -- first in taking on such a confused screenplay, second in doing nothing to improve it in the filming, and third in letting Stormare run rampant through the thing, like a frantic rat scampering around a sinking ship.

Grade: D

Rated PG-13, a little mild profanity, some gore and violence

1 hr., 58 min.

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