Review: 'The Brothers Bloom'

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

A classic con film set in the 1930s, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play siblings on their final trick.

Since I'm not the biggest fan of the movies of Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"), I'm even less of a fan of an Anderson knock-off like "The Brothers Bloom." Writer-director Rian Johnson, whose directorial debut "Brick" was an indie hit, is intent on turning quirkiness into an aesthetic. This postmodern affliction is as show-offy as it is obnoxious.

And what, exactly, is being shown off? Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody play sibling con artists since childhood. Ruffalo's Stephen is the mastermind and Brody's Bloom (he is given no first name) is the dreamer who, after 25 years on the grift, wants to go straight. Stephen convinces him to join in one more scam – the fleecing of Penelope (Rachel Weisz), an eccentric New Jersey heiress who ends up teaming with the boys on the theft of an antiquarian book. Bloom, of course, falls in love with her. How could he not? I mean, she's eccentric.

The madcap heiress material is strictly 1930s screwball comedy stuff, the criminal escapades are alternately goofy and noirish. None of it hits home as either comedy or drama. The later addition of a mute Japanese sidekick named Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) – she should have been provided with a helpmate named Kiss Kiss – does little to perk things up. Mute characters are generally not my bag anyway.

The entire plot hinges on a series of ruses that may or not be scams, but Johnson doesn't provide the kinds of clues that might draw audiences into his gamesmanship.

I liked con game movies in the same way that I like magic shows – they both tickle one's fatuousness. But "The Brothers Bloom" is much more interested in showing off its own smarts, such as they are, than in challenging the audience's. But it doesn't take much to see through this magic act. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for violence, some sensuality, and brief strong language.)

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