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Brothers Grimm’ fails to deliver fairy tale ending

Vince Labriola | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

From Terry Gilliam, one of the most original minds in modern cinema, comes “The Brothers Grimm,” a weird and macabre tale of two brothers who conjure up demons – and destroy them for a hefty fee.

Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob (an utterly incomprehensible Heath Ledger), known throughout 19th-century Germany as conquerors of all that is supernaturally evil, are actually nothing more than glorified pranksters. They parade from small village to small village exploiting the townsfolk’s fear of old fairy tales and bedtime stories.

Eventually they are exposed and arrested by an irritable French general (Jonathan Pryce), who wants them to discover who is behind the mysterious disappearance of ten little girls in a rural village. What ensues is a twisted, disorienting, and altogether disappointing fantasy-adventure that sadly becomes a dark blemish on its director’s otherwise excellent résumé.

Much of the effect a film will have comes from expectations set before entering the theater. “The Brothers Grimm” is directed by Gilliam, the historically thought-provoking director who has helmed such critically-acclaimed projects as “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas,” “12 Monkeys,” and the criminally-underrated “Brazil.” Compared to that list, “Grimm” is pedestrian at best.

Gilliam tries his best to inject it with trademarks like spiraling camera shots, crazy and nonsensical characters and considerable narrative bent towards the dark and sinister, but to little avail.

The trouble begins, however, with the story itself, which is so tired and filled with clichés and illogical twists and turns that the audience has a hard time keeping track of it all.

The film’s big gimmick is that it alludes to famous fairy-tales. Among those referenced are “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Hood.” This happens to be the inspiration for the Grimm brothers’ business. However, the screenplay is so sloppy and the visuals so outrageous that the film becomes impossible to play along with.

Damon and Ledger talk in terrible faux-English accents that make them impossible to understand. Throughout the course of the film, they meet a stock Keira Knightley look-alike (Lena Headey) and a dangerous plague-ridden Queen (Monica Bellucci) who has taken the little girls captive in an effort to create an elixir for eternal life.

Each and every character, save for the awkwardly stoic and serious Headey, has a nervous tic or crazy facial abnormality that makes the entire film feel like something out of a circus sideshow, and the camera never stops moving to the next creepy, gross thing Gilliam feels the need to throw onscreen.

There are points where “The Brothers Grimm” is popcorn entertainment, but again, Gilliam ought to know better. By the umpteenth ‘deus ex machina’ moment, one starts to hope that this is all one of Johnny Depp’s ether-induced dreams from “Fear and Loathing.”

Yet, the film can best be summed up by a particular moment in the film: A cat is (somehow) kicked into a giant whirling blade, at which point the poor feline is shredded into small bits, one of which lands on Pryce’s face. He stands, bemused, picks the little gob of red entrails off of his cheek, and pops it into his mouth.

Bon appétit.