Like a character in a fairy tale caught between the forces of light and those of darkness, "The Brothers Grimm" attempts to serve two masters. No, there is not a happy ending.
Not to put too fine a point on it, "Grimm" is an attempt to marry the gloriously unbridled imagination of director Terry Gilliam to the particular demands of the kinds of product the picture's distributor, Dimension Films, usually handles: horror films made to satisfy the inexhaustible appetite of the under-25 population
Making matters worse in this case is that the filmmakers had a reported $80 million to work with, the largest budget in Dimension history. Money can be a good thing on a film, but in this case it has simply encouraged Gilliam to lose himself in increasingly excessive flights of grotesque fancy that must have been fun to play around with but are the opposite to watch.
As written by veteran creepologist Ehren Kruger ("The Ring," "The Ring Two," "Scream 3," etc.), "Grimm" starts with an intriguing premise. Gone are the scholarly brothers of history who collected folk tales as a way of preserving German language and culture. In their place are two guys of a more wild and crazy disposition.
Realist Will (Matt Damon) and dreamy Jacob (Heath Ledger) are still brothers, but here their line of work is more in the nature of ghost-busting/performance artistry. Working in French-occupied Germany in 1811, they first use their theatrical skills to create crises like witches and goblins that appear supernatural and then "miraculously" clear up the problem and pocket some healthy change.
To the occupying French, however, the Grimms are little better than con men. Captured by the epicene Gen. Delatombe (Gilliam veteran Jonathan Pryce) and his henchman Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), a self-described "master of the torturing arts," they are ordered to go to the village of Marbaden and find the villains who have been impersonating supernatural forces and kidnapping a string of little girls.
Though the Grimms' initial take on their opponents is simply that "these people are much better funded than we are," they soon have to accept the truth: They are face to face with the real thing, genuine black magic personified by an ancient evil queen played by Monica Bellucci. With the help of the coldly pragmatic hunter Angelika (Lena Hedley), the Grimms prepare for the fight of their lives.
Because this is, after all, a Terry Gilliam film, "The Brothers Grimm" has its share of wacky moments that are quite unlike anyone else's, from heavily tongue-in-cheek line delivery to a running joke involving "a kiss for grandmother toad." And after the dreadful luck Gilliam had trying to make his Don Quixote movie (wonderfully delineated in the 2002 documentary "Lost in La Mancha"), it's good news that he has another feature in theaters. Deprived by Dimension of Samantha Morton, the actress he wanted for Angelika, and of his favorite cinematographer, Nicola Pecorini, he still got the job done.
Unfortunately, although Gilliam has always had a taste for the outre, he has allowed it to get out of hand here and swallow the picture whole. There's an excessiveness, an unwelcome too-muchness to "Grimm's" creepy moments. The film's audience may be initially split between die-hard Gilliam fans and teenage boys, but its insistence on being more off-putting than anything else will inevitably swing the pendulum in the younger direction.
'The Brothers Grimm'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, frightening sequences and brief suggestive material
Times guidelines: Unapologetically grotesque
Released by Dimension Films. Director Terry Gilliam. Producers Charles Roven, Daniel Bobker. Executive producers John D. Schofield, Chris McGurk, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jonathan Gordon, Andrew Rona. Screenplay Ehren Kruger. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Editor Lesley Walker. Costumes Gabriella Pescucci, Carlo Poggioli. Music Dario Marianelli. Production design Guy Hendrix Dyas. Supervising art director Keith Pain. Set decorator Judy Farr. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.
In general release.