There's no happy ending for The Brothers Grimm, or a happy beginning or middle, for that matter.
That's the one consistent thing in Terry Gilliam's latest film, which is plagued by inconsistency.
Certainly, you expect some weirdness walking into one of Gilliam's movies. After all, this is the man who crafted the ``Monty Python'' animation, who has brought fantastical figures to the screen as the director of films including The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is the man whose famously failed attempt at making a wildly ambitious Don Quixote movie was the subject of its own documentary, Lost in la Mancha.
But those films had the benefit of a singular vision. Working from a script by Ehren Kruger, writer of The Ring movies, Gilliam is all over the place here. It's as if he doesn't know what he wants his film to be. A loopy farce? A lavish costume piece? A high-energy action film? At times it even feels as if this is Gilliam's anti-war film, framed within the context of a comedic fairy tale.
In an enchanted forest outside a German village in 1798, trees crawl and branches snarl, and a wolf turns into a man before turning back into a wolf again, but you can find your way out of the darkness by licking the head of the wise Grandmother Toad. (Though for all the film's elaborate pretensions, the effects look unexpectedly schlocky; that was true at times in Gilliam's Time Bandits, too, but there the aesthetic seemed
Classic characters like Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel come and go, but they aren't used to their full potential, they appear so randomly they seem like afterthoughts. Although the Gingerbread Man, who forms from a glob of black goo at the bottom of a well, is awfully cute. Then he eats a small child.
In the midst of all this madness are Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as brothers Will and Jacob Grimm, fictionalized incarnations of the real-life brothers behind all those famous fairy tales, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. Con men who make their money pretending to drive demons and monsters out of small towns, Will and Jake are found out and forced to investigate a truly cursed forest where little girls are disappearing.
The actors seem to be having a good time bouncing off each other, with Damon reveling in the flashier of the two roles as the more gregarious Grimm (and affecting a passable British accent). But neither brother is terribly well fleshed-out, though a subplot harkening to their childhood -- and an unfortunate acquisition of magic beans -- is meant to convey longtime resentments.
So when Jacob pleads to Will, ``You're my brother -- I want you to believe in me,'' the moment lacks the resonance for which it strives. Similarly, a love triangle between the brothers and Angelika (Lena Headey), a beautiful and butt-kicking forest tracker whose two sisters are among the missing, rings hollow and feels tacked-on.
On horseback with her long hair and striking features, Headey is the most dynamic of all the movie's creatures. Meanwhile, Gilliam squanders stage veteran Jonathan Pryce in the role of General Delatombe, the French governor who has taken over the German countryside (and sent the Grimms on their mission). The character is smothered by stilted dialogue and a broad, fake accent.