The Brothers Grimm, the long-awaited new offering from maverick filmmaker and Monty Python vet Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil), is a mess. Not the kind of inspired mess that Gilliam is capable of creating, but the kind of mess that results when you assign tasks to several people and they all do their jobs poorly. The first few minutes of the movie are entertaining, but the mess quickly swallows up all the good stuff, much like the Blob used to do with hoboes and teen-agers.
Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm and Matt Damon as Wilhem Grimm
What can I tell you? The script is convoluted, unfocused and heavy with lame dialogue. The tone is inconsistent, as are the acting styles of the various cast members. The camera placement is dreadful; in most scenes, the cameras are put in positions that obscure a clear view of the proceedings. The sets are obvious and as cluttered as the scene compositions. The editing is ineffective. The special effects are neither good enough to be convincing nor cheesy enough to be amusing.
The result is tiresome and perplexing. Not awful, mind you, just bad. Bad enough, I suspect, to build a cult audience.
Writer Ethan Kruger introduces us to the Brothers Grimm, Will and Jacob (the likable Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, making the best out of bad situations), citizens of "French-occupied Germany" in 1796. Each of the men functions as a low-tech Peter Venkman, traveling from village to village "rescuing" the inhabitants from supernatural menaces that were actually created by the Grimm boys and their cronies.
Their activities have drawn the attention of the French, in particular Gen. Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce, embarrassing as the main corporeal villain), who is determined to eradicate superstition. The Grimms get arrested and offered a deal: They must fix what's wrong in a small village or suffer torture and death. Seems that children in the burg keep disappearing and the villagers believe they are victims of forces within a nearby, enchanted forest. Obviously, Delatombe believes, the villagers are actually victims of the type of scam the Grimms have been staging, only on a larger scale.
To make sure that the fellows do as told, Delatombe sends along a flamboyant Italian torturer named Cavaldi (Peter Stomare) to keep an eye on them.
DIGRESSION ALERT: HERE I GO ... While I found Stomare's performance annoyingly hammy, Nicholas Shager of Slate magazine said, "Peter Stormare achieves a level of such marvelously over-the-top, cartoonish insanity as Italian 'master of the torturing arts' Cavaldi that it's a wonder the film doesn't literally implode under the strain of his flamboyantly lisping, flailing exercise in whirling dervish performance art." As I said, this thing is probably going to become a cult favorite. END DIGRESSION ALERT.
Indeed, the situation is dire at the village, leading to conflict between the brothers. Jacob, who shamed the family as a child by purchasing magic beans with household money (one of many nods to famous fairy tales), believes the abductions are due to dark magic, while no-nonsense Will dismisses any notion that otherworldly powers are at play.
Wait, there's more. Angelika (Lena Headley), a beautiful villager with two missing sisters, reluctantly ends up guiding the Grimms into the forest. Needless to say, the sparks of romance soon appear, along with jealousy between the men.
You know what? By the time those plot developments occurred, I didn't care. Watching scene after scene of lame dialogue performed in uneven fashion by a cast wandering around dreary and cluttered sets in vignettes accented by lame special effects left me enervated. After sitting through Terry Gilliam's pricey misfire, all I wanted to do was go home and forget I ever saw The Brothers Grimm. And now, having met the requirements of my job description, I can do just that.