THE BROTHERS GRIMM

PG-13

-By Doris Toumarkine


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Fans of Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King) won't be disappointed with this over-the-top rendering of a fancifully imagined episode in the lives of real-life fairy-tale authors Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. Beyond this loyal core, it's hard to imagine whom the filmmakers had in mind for this lavish production. In spite of lots of animals (often gruesomely depicted) and comic-book-like characters (often buffoonishly depicted), kids won't get The Brothers Grimm, and the film is just too childish for adults, star power (Matt Damon as Wilhelm and Heath Ledger as the younger, bookish Jacob) aside.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who made his mark with the underrated Arlington Road, here cobbles together shards of Grimm fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, sleeping princesses, magic mirrors, forest monsters, etc.) via the slightest of stories. Kruger and Gilliam's Grimms are con artists who travel the German countryside pretending to exorcize evil spirits. Soon they confront real danger when Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), Napoleon's general, and Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), Delatombe's loopy Italian lieutenant, catch on to them and demand that the brothers solve the area's real mystery: the disappearance of village girls.

Thus, the brothers are catapulted into a non-stop adventure that puts them in harm's way and familiar territory as a slew of fairy-tale characters and supernatural situations are referenced. They encounter a multitude of colorful humans and beasts, many of whom are fearsome. Key among the former are Angelika (Lena Headey), a hardened poacher who knows the land and captures the brothers' hearts. The end of their journey leads them to the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci), who, seeking eternal beauty and too early for reality-makeover shows, has waited patiently atop a tall tower for five centuries.

While none of the dialogue is memorable, some of the lesser characters shine, including the comical Cavaldi and Hidlick, the scruffy village bumpkin played by Mackenzie Crook, familiar to many as the creepiest office worker in the BBC's hit series "The Office." Otherwise, Damon, Ledger, Pryce and others merely phone in their work, with American Damon and Aussie Ledger sounding quite British.

The film ever so fleetingly hints at ways the Grimm Brothers might have been inspired to tell their dark tales, but nothing substantive materializes, thus whetting the appetite for a real bio of the legendary fairy-tale authors (think Finding Neverland). But in Gilliam's take on the German Grimms, it's again self-indulgence uber alles and his fans will rejoice.

Filmed in the Czech Republic, The Brothers Grimm has a terrific look, thanks to a variety of evocative sets and locations, to delicious special effects (walking trees, etc.) and to the monochromatic palettes of browns and oranges that DP Newton Thomas Sigel has conjured. Shooting largely on a soundstage, Sigel made good use of the control he had.

Dimension parent Miramax has brought similar family-oriented, effects-heavy films to the big screen (Ella Enchanted, Pinocchio, The Visitors, etc.) with less-than-stellar results, suggesting it will take yet another dose of magic for The Brothers Grimm to escape this curse.
-Doris Toumarkine


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