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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Brothers Bloom (2009)

Where do I begin with The Brothers Bloom? The film, directed by Rian Johnson (Brick), looked great in the previews: a fun caper comedy starring two of my favorite actors (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) set in Prague, Mexico, Montenegro and Greece. The trailer made it look like a modern day combination of The Sting and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but the finished product is all candy coating with nothing substantial in the center. Ruffalo and Brody play the titular characters, two men who have spent their lives making money from spinning elaborate cons. They find a new mark in Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz) and trick her into following them to Prague for a phony antique smuggling caper. The plot becomes more convoluted from there, as one con piles up on another.

The first thirty minutes of the film pulled me in: from the opening sequence of the Brothers as children to the introduction of Penelope's character, I was into the movie and ready to have some fun. By the time they reached the continent, however, I had lost interest in the whole mess. I was distracted by its similarities to other films (Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude, Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amelie and Fellini's 8 1/2 being the stand-outs). I was irritated by the dialogue which, while clever, failed to create separate voices for the characters. The main problem with The Brothers Bloom is that it is so self-consciously whimsical, so obviously desperate for the audience to fall in love with it, that the intricacies of the plot seem oddly unnecessary. Johnson goes for a Wes-Anderson-style fantasy character study (complete with cutesy title cards) which does not mesh at all with the story he is struggling to tell. Perhaps it comes down to the genre: con and caper movies let us know up front that the characters are spinning lies and that nothing on the screen can be trusted. The great con flicks pull us in by forcing us to have a relationship with the characters. In Matchstick Men, we end up empathizing with Nick Cage's pathetic obsessive compulsive. In Paper Moon we start out despising Ryan O'Neal but want him to have a good relationship with his daughter anyway. In Charade, we know we can't believe a thing Cary Grant says but dammit, we want him to marry Audrey Hepburn. All of these films have whimsical comic tones, as well, yet they all possess something that The Brothers Bloom lacks: characters who could be real people with real lives somewhere in the world. I never for one second believed that the brothers were real; they were more like characters in a fairy tale. As a result, I didn't really care if one of them got shot or got the girl or got a case of cholera; they did not matter to me one bit.

Strangely, a film that fails in so many way also showcases some excellent performances. Rachel Weisz, who to my knowledge has not done much comedy before, is so wonderful as Penelope that I wanted her to have her own film and leave the brothers Bloom in the dust. Her timing, delivery and physical mannerisms are pure comic perfection. She reminded me of Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. Mark Ruffalo is charming as he swaggers around as Stephen Bloom, and Adrien Brody does his best to lend a unique voice to a poorly drawn character. These great leads, however, cannot save the sinking ship of The Brothers Bloom. There is too much going on, too much cuteness, too many twists and offshoots in the script, and too many damn climaxes (three, to be exact). Give it a passing glance if it comes On Demand, but don't spend your hard-earned money on this Hindenburg of a film.

The amount I would pay to see this: $2