[Screen It]

(2009) (Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: Two brothers and longtime con men try to pull an elaborate scam on a rich and lonely heiress who's looking for adventure.
Bloom (ADRIEN BRODY) and Stephen (MARK RUFFALO) are brothers who decided long ago that pulling cons on others was the best way to level the playing field with those having inherent advantages over them, such as not being bumped from one foster home to the next. With the assistance of nitroglycerine expert Bang Bang (RINKO KIKUCHI), the two are quite good at what they do, having been mentored in the past by con veteran Diamond Dog (MAXMILLIAN SCHELL).

Yet, with Stephen serving as the scheming mastermind, Bloom has grown tired of playing other characters and having his life be just the roles that he embodies. Accordingly, he wants out, but Stephen convinces him to participate in one last scam, this one targeting Penelope Stamp (RACHEL WEISZ), a rich but lonely 33-year-old heiress.

With the assistance of The Curator (ROBBIE COLTRANE), they set their plan into motion, with Penelope unaware of their true intentions, but obviously enjoying the attention paid to her and what seemingly promises to be an adventure-filled journey with them. But as Bloom finds himself getting too close to their mark, his doubts and desire to quit resurface, potentially endangering the trio, especially with the arrival of armed thugs who may or may not be part of the elaborate ruse.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Throughout the ages, people have pondered the notion of whether they have free will, or if their actions, decisions and, ultimately, their future are all predetermined by some higher power. Those who are successful usually fall into the former category, while those who blame their past or present situation and/or outlook on bad luck or other things outside their realm often believe that they have little to no control over their lives.

Unlike in real life, the trajectory of movie characters is nearly always predetermined, be that by the original writer(s), and choices made by the performer and/or director. Sure, there can be some ad-libbing from time to time, but for the most part, the character proceeds from point A to Z as previously written or decided upon.

In the case of the con men movie "The Brothers Bloom," one might just wish the characters had the opportunity to practice some free will and break away from the path preset for them by writer/director Rian Johnson who made a critical but not commercial splash with the indie pic "Brick" back in 2005.

And that's due to two very distinct reasons. The first is the conception and execution of the title characters (played by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) and various supporting ones (most notably Rachel Weisz). I like whimsy, quirkiness and eccentricities just as much as the next person, especially when that has some deeper meaning or leads to something else down the line in terms of character and/or plot.

But such qualities are so liberally poured into and over the personas here that they quickly wear out their welcome, essentially smothering both them and the viewer with all of that forced material. A little of that can go a long way, but it's relentless here, from the behavior and appearances of the characters to the directorial and storytelling choices (including, natch, the whimsical narrator) that rarely take a much-needed breather.

Equally as disappointing is that the main con in the film, along with others that support or precede it, simply isn't terribly novel, fun, engaging or entertaining. These sorts of films are notoriously hard to pull off, but when they work -- such as was the case in what's arguably the best of them all, "The Sting" -- they end up setting the bar so high that those that follow simply can't reach the same, let alone pull themselves over it.

Here, Brody and Ruffalo play brotherly con men who've been pulling schemes and ruses on the unsuspecting from childhood up until the present. But Brody's character says he's upset his life is just the roles he plays, adds that he's tired of waking up next to someone who thinks they know him (when they really don't), and basically states that he wants an unwritten life. As is usual in such stories, the manipulator of the duo (that being Ruffalo's character) says that's fine, but it will have to wait for one last really good con (the usual statement and condition often found in such pics).

That leads to them meeting their next mark, embodied by the cute as a button Weisz playing an heiress who -- wait for it -- is eccentric, goofy, clumsy and looking for some exciting action in her rich but lonely life. Accordingly, the brothers do their thing, she's drawn in, and they go about the rest of their business.

There are additional plot details involving Robbie Coltrane as a nebulous assistant and Maximilian Schell playing a former mentor turned potential villain that are supposed to complicate the con -- or at least make us believe that -- but they don't end up amounting to much either. And that's basically because neither the plot nor the characters engage us, except on a level of desire to get away from the forced quirkiness as expeditiously as possible.

Coming off like Wes Anderson's similarly failed "The Darjeeling Limited," I'm sure the film will likewise have its supporters who will see (or think they see) something more than simply what's on the surface, and will heap various levels of praise on the offering. Despite the great cast, a fun opening sequence establishing the brotherly duo, and some creative flourishes, I found most of the affair forced when not boring.

And it's clearly far down the rung of con men films, especially considering that the whole point of such an endeavor -- characters conceiving and pulling off a fun and/or complicated ruse - ends up pointless and mostly void of entertaining qualities. Accordingly, "The Brothers Bloom" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 29, 2009 / Posted May 29, 2009

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