Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Trust the Toad!

Well, not so much.

I finally did get to see The Brothers Grimm. (Like my previous attempt, this trip to the movies was the result of a schedule snafu at work that left me with a large block of free time in the middle of the day… so I took a 2 1/2 hour lunch and caught a matinee.) It was a mid-day show on a weekday, so we were a pretty tiny audience. Fewer than ten, I think. And most of the time I was the only one laughing at things. I think they were, at least for the most part, things I was supposed to be laughing at.

A lot of the negatives I’d heard about Gilliam’s film turned out, I’m a bit sad to admit, to be quite true. The movie is muddled. Its pacing is a mess. The characterization, of Matt Damon Grimm and Heath Ledger Grimm in particular, is woefully underdeveloped. Actually, the characters are for the most part cardboard, and in that sense there’s no more development to be done. Matt and Heath are underdeveloped because they at least have backstory and the makings of a relationship.

As young boys, older brother Matt sent younger brother Heath out to sell the family cow to buy food to keep their sick sister from dying and Heath came back with – you guessed it – a handful of “magic beans.” Presumably little sis died, because Matt’s been bitterly holding the bean incident over his brother’s head ever since.

It seems his brother’s superstitious gullibility was something of an inspiration to Matt, though. The Brothers Grimm have been making a tidy living as con men exploiting the superstitious citizens of Eighteenth Century Germany. They sneak into town and fake a haunting, then sneak back out so they can make a triumphant entrance and offer to rid the town of its ghostly troubles for a generous fee. No magic here, just smoke and mirrors.

So what happens when the Brothers Grimm come up against a haunting they didn’t stage? Is this someone else playing their game, or a genuine magic thing? Sadly there’s next to no suspense about that, or much of anything else in the movie. Like the other Ehren Kruger penned genre pic this summer, Skeleton Key, Brothers’ script thinks it’s being clever when it really isn’t.

Now, there IS a cool idea buried in here somewhere. The Grimm Brothers as ghost hunters who encounter elements that finally end up in their various tales. Or the Grimm Brothers as grifters who use their stories to drum up business for their fake ghost hunting. Or the Grimms as a Mulder & Scully pair, one brother believing and the other debunking. Or some combination thereof. And, sadly, what Gilliam’s film ends up as is a rather uncertain combination of all of the above, with some glib French bashing and Pythonesque humor thrown into a mix that’s presented with Gilliam’s characteristic visual flair.

Now, I enjoy glib French bashing as much as – actually, probably a good deal more than – the next guy, but the resultant combination just doesn’t gel into anything cohesive. In truth, there are times when it doesn’t seem to make much sense. There are some stunning set pieces, but they’re crammed in amid scenes where the action is frustratingly difficult to follow. I’ve no patience these days for poorly executed action sequences. I understand how much of a technical challenge is involved in crafting really good action sequences. I also find hard-to-follow action sequences really annoying. In some cases, it’s just plain laziness or incompetence. In this case, though, I fear it’s the result of the film’s rumored-to-be-quite-painful production process and heavily-interfered-in-also-quite-painful post-production process. This film spent a lot of time in the cutting room, and it feels that way.

Rather than simply coming across as a mess, however, The Brothers Grimm is a tantalizing and painful failure to watch. There are so many individually strong elements, so many hints of unrealized potential, so many missed opportunities and such a pervasive sense that this ought to have been better. Watching The Brothers Grimm is like opening a beautifully wrapped Christmas present, a package that’s exactly the right size, shape and weight to be the very thing you most wanted to receive as a gift, and finding instead only socks that aren’t even the right size.