“The Brothers Grimm” is the latest movie from perpetually embattled director Terry Gilliam, he of “Brazil,” “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” and “Time Bandits” fame. Gilliam’s movies, for whatever reasons, have always been surrounded by a cloud of near-disaster and rumors of studio interference combined with the director’s own knack for hamstringing his productions. “Grimm” is no exception. Accusations have flown back and forth between the director and Miramax about casting changes (both Gilliam and Matt Damon wanted Samantha Morton in the film, not so the studio) and budget cuts. Gilliam has even taken the weeks leading up to the movie’s release to decry the Weinsteins’ alleged interference.
Given all that, it shouldn’t be surprising that expectations aren’t very high for the film itself.
In “The Brothers Grimm,” Damon and Heath Ledger play – who else? – Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. These original Bee Gees are Napoleonic ghostbusters who travel the countryside freeing villages of their respective curses (all for a fee, of course), and the opening sequence shows the two dispelling a pesky witch that has taken to haunting a small German town.
Of course, Will and Jake aren’t “real” ghostbusters. Through the use of gadgetry and illusion, they’ve managed (along with a couple of not-so-bright accomplices) to develop quite a cottage industry in hunting down evil spirits. Jake, for his part, was once a scholar of folklore, and is still seeking some way to tie together all the legends they’ve encountered, while Will is only in it for the money and the babes. Things are going swimmingly for our pair until they run afoul of French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), who’s convinced the two are responsible for the disappearances of several young girls from a nearby town. He gives the brothers a choice: get to the bottom of the mystery (which, he surmises, must be the work of tricksters like them) or be put to death for their chicanery. It’s not a hard decision.
Naturally, the disappearances are anything but ordinary, and as Will and Jake investigate the enchanted forest where the girls went missing, they uncover what might be their first authentic legend.
Gilliam’s troubles getting “The Brothers Grimm” released have already been touched upon here and well-documented elsewhere, and a thoughtful person might start wondering if some of his constant bitching about studios and funding might not be – in part – a product of the man’s imagination. Here, I’d have to say blame can be parceled out equally. Gilliam’s movies have always had an unreal quality to them which often threatens to take the viewer out of the picture, but never (except maybe in “Time Bandits”) has this been a result of poor special effects. Never has a Terry Gilliam movie looked quite this fake, even with all the mud and grime thrown around. Some of the monster F/X look like they could be “Van Helsing” outtakes, for crying out loud.
Those kinds of things could be chalked up to budget cuts, certainly, but not the largely disjointed way the movie comes across. Scenes end abruptly, as if Gilliam just decided to yell “Cut!” and go grab a sandwich, and flashback sequences are inserted haphazardly and with little transitional coherence.
Some of the blame can be laid at screenwriter Ehren Kruger’s feet. Kruger’s average isn’t the best after the lackluster Skeleton Key and The Ring Two, and rather than offering a decent mélange of comedy and horror here, he seems incapable of handling either.
A few bright spots shine through. Peter Stormare as Delatombe’s henchman, Cavaldi, is a wonderfully unhinged character. And I’d certainly be willing to betray everything I love to serve the Mirror Queen for all eternity, provided she was played by Monica Bellucci. But on the whole, “The Brothers Grimm” is a mess; a formerly daring director’s attempt to cash in on big studio backing even after the rug has been pulled out from under him. Let’s hope Gilliam regains his footing soon.
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