- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

“The Brothers Grimm” has been wedged between two other prestige projects — “The Great Raid” and “Proof” — whose commercial prospects became hostage to prolonged corporate divorce proceedings between Miramax and Disney. All three are opening several seasons later than planned, in a late-summer time slot better suited to neglect than a fair shake.

Director Terry Gilliam, whose imaginative vitality is often subverted by misjudgment, does little to justify a fair shake for “Brothers.” This supernatural fantasy is predicated on a pair of swindlers whose resourcefulness is sorely tested by a demonic queen lurking in an incongruous tower in a deathtrap of an enchanted forest.

The swindlers are brothers whose names are borrowed from the historical Grimms, Wilhelm and Jacob (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, respectively). The dubious conceptual jest is that names famously associated with fairy tales have been stuffed inside a frequently stupefying cinematic pastiche of fairy tales.

The historical Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm were exceptionally learned scholars and philologists whose two-volume collection of German folk tales, “Children’s Stories and Household Tales,” published in 1812 and 1815, proved to be an unforeseen popular success. Subsequently revised and expanded to make them even more accessible to a large reading public, the Grimm fairy tales became a widespread cultural influence comparable to the Bible and Shakespeare.

It is not facsimiles of these Grimm brothers who scramble to evade arrest by French military officials (principally Jonathan Pryce as a snobbish general and Peter Stormare as his hulking enforcer) or ghoulish deaths at the hands of she-devil Monica Bellucci and her monstrous minions. The movie’s heroes are itinerant con men and showmen. They hustle a living in a theatrically cumbersome way by faking supernatural scares and then contracting with credulous communities to exorcise the evil phantoms.

Barely one step ahead of French occupation troops (the movie retrieves the Napoleonic period of the Grimms’ youth, during which one of Napoleon’s brothers was installed as the king of Westphalia), the brothers blunder into a mismatch with a village whose curse seems to defy human remedy. Several children have vanished, and the trail leads into a forest where every tree and animal seems part of a malign plot to snag fresh victims for the tower-dwelling Miss Bellucci, kind of a zombie Rapunzel.

The most valiant warrior is a village maiden, Lena Headey’s Angelika, who left town to be educated but has returned as an intrepid vindicator. Cast as the geeky, jumpy brother, Heath Ledger gets a more entertaining opportunity than Matt Damon, the pensive and stoical Grimm.

Unless performers are adept at impersonating monstrous figures (Mr. Stormare demonstrates how to be tiresomely adept in this fashion), they’re destined to be upstaged time and time again by overblown special effects. Trying to keep track of story threads amid the uproar is rather like sifting through tornado wreckage. Maybe a remnant can be found here and there. As a rule, all signs of structure and continuity get splintered and scattered.

Some of the settings are scenically and architecturally impressive, but the movie’s approach to both evocation and rollicking comedy is always more overbearing than inviting. “The Brothers Grimm” is strictly for those already convinced that Terry Gilliam is an infinitely forgivable mad genius.

*1/2

TITLE: “The Brothers Grimm”

RATING: PG-13 (Recurrent ominous episodes emphasizing demonic spectacle; some gruesome illustrative details and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger. Cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel. Production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas. Costume design by Gabriella Pescucci and Carlo Poggioli. Visual effects by Kent Houston. Second unit director, stunt coordinator and horse master: Mario Luraschi. Music by Dario Marianelli

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com

/thebrothersgrimm

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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