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(2005) (Matt Damon, Heath Ledger) (PG-13)

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Drama/Horror: Two brotherly 19th century con-artists try to solve the mystery behind missing children when they're sent in to investigate what turns out to be a real-life fairy tale curse.
It's the early 19th century and brothers Will (MATT DAMON) and Jake Grimm (HEATH LEDGER) are two con artists traveling the French-occupied, German countryside in search of superstitious and gullible villagers who they can fleece by performing staged exorcisms and such of "supernatural" beings or occurrences. Their cons, however, eventually draw the ire of French leader Delatombe (JONATHAN PRYCE) who has his right-hand man Cavaldi (PETER STORMARE) capture them and orders that they be put to death.

That is, unless they can figure out what appears to be a similar con occurring in another village on the outskirts of a foreboding forest. Various children have gone missing there and the villagers claim the forest is enchanted if not outright haunted. Ever the skeptic, Will is sure they'll easily spot the swindlers, but the more superstitious Jake -- who documents most everything and everyone they encounter -- isn't so sure of that.

With the aid of local trapper Angelika (LENA HEADEY) -- who claims two of her sisters have disappeared -- and watched carefully by Cavaldi, the brothers set out for the forest. There, they come to the realization that it really is haunted, with everything eventually revolving around a long-dead Queen (MONICA BELLUCCI) who lies in state at the top of a tower.

As things become hairier by the minute, Will and Jake try to solve the mystery, rescue the children and avoid all of the supernatural trappings hidden deep within the forest and its long forgotten castle.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Writers get their inspiration from any number of sources ranging from their own imagination to real incidents they or others have experienced. Two of the more influential and well-read ones of long ago were Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm who published what later became known as "Grimm's Fairy Tales."

While neither they nor that work might be household names or titles nowadays, most everyone has read or at least heard of the likes of Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and more, all of which originated from them and their collection of old German folktales.

According to "The Brothers Grimm," a supernaturally tinged dramedy, their inspiration came from first-hand encounters with those who'd later populate their works, a lot of imagination and real-life supernatural events. Oh, and the fact that they were con artists who staged such spooky stuff in order to milk the uneducated, gullible and/or superstitious of their monies, only to then encounter the real thing.

As directed by Terry Gilliam ("Twelve Monkeys," "The Fisher King") from a script by Ehren Kruger (the "Skeleton Key," the "Ring" movies), the story thus shares similarities to predecessors such as "Ghost," "The Frighteners" and other such flicks where the hucksters must face the real version of the exact thing they've been peddling for years. And it's somewhat fun seeing the imaginative catalysts and characters that supposedly inspired the real brothers' work.

Yet, despite Gilliam's signature directorial touch, the film isn't anywhere close to being a masterpiece and certainly isn't the filmmaker's best work (although at least it got completed -- compared to the never finished "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" -- and isn't as annoying or bad as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas").

In fact, and aside from the visuals that surprisingly -- considering the reported budget -- don't always look state of the art (and sometimes look downright bad), the film initially doesn't feel like an offering from the imaginative director. It clumsily herks and jerks its way from the start and then swerves all over the place before finally starting to catch its stride.

Like other such films, it eventually settles down to flesh out one of its smaller stories that then turns into the main plot thrust. While moderately engaging, that never manages to take off like one might expect it should or could. It doesn't help that it never settles on a tone or style, and since there's really not enough present to sustain the film -- at least as executed -- the filmmakers introduce some villains (or at least antagonists) who attempt to foil the main characters' goals, not to mention their lives.

In those parts, Jonathan Pryce ("De-Lovely," "Stigmata") and Peter Stormare ("Constantine," "Fargo") are an odd mix, but certainly fit the bill for the usual, eclectic collection of such characters that Gilliam seems to favor in his works.

While Pryce is just going through the motions of the sort of part he's often played before, Stormare is so over the top that he will likely annoy as many or more viewers as he'll amuse. Lena Headey ("The Cave," "Possession") and Monica Bellucci ("The Passion of the Christ," the "Matrix" films) are present to represent the fairer sex, but they're not fleshed out adequately enough to make much of a difference.

Which is certainly also true for the title characters played by Matt Damon ("Ocean's Twelve," "The Bourne Supremacy") and Heath Ledger ("Lords of Dogtown," "The Order"). They're moderately fun as con artists doing their shtick and then finding themselves in over their heads with the real thing, but once the latter goes full bore, they sort of flounder about, uncertain how to play the characters. Of course, the script is as much at fault as the performers, constantly alternating their behavior and personalities so that everything comes up with a wishy-washy feel.

Reportedly sporting a high budget and costly production and post-production overruns, the film seems like it should be so much better than it is, especially considering that Gilliam is back in the director's chair calling the shots. Yet, while it has its moments - and is certainly never dull since things never slow down -- the overall effort just didn't engage or entertain me like I expected it might. It's too soon to say if the production will live happily ever after, and while it might do a lot of huffing and puffing, it's not likely to blow down the majority of viewers or critics. "The Brothers Grimm" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 15, 2005 / Posted August 26, 2005

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