You can see the bulging vein of forced creativity throughout "The Brothers Bloom," a romp meant to evoke an Old World dream of steamships, elegant deception and moneyed eccentrics but that mostly recalls -- with ever-diminishing returns -- the arch playgrounds of Wes Anderson movies.
Con movies and the fractured bonds of family are writer-director Rian Johnson's twin engines here, as he opens with a whiplash-paced, whip-pan-crammed Ricky Jay-narrated prologue explaining the orphans-to-grifters origins and psychological background of fraudsters Stephen and Bloom. In a nutshell, Stephen's the heartless master manipulator and Bloom's the romantic who feels he's merely a cog in his brother's flow chart view of the world.
When we pick up with them as adults, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) senses his bro's need to break free and devises one last great con, in which Bloom (Adrien Brody) seduces a wacky heiress shut-in named Penelope (Rachel Weisz) into participating in a country-hopping smuggling operation that takes them to Greece, Russia, the Czech Republic and Mexico. In tow are the siblings' Japanese explosives moll Bang Bang (a committed Rinko Kikuchi), a rival/partner Belgian (Robbie Coltrane) and Diamond Dog (a sleazy Maximilian Schell).
But when Bloom begins to fall for Penelope, his obligation to his brother's elaborate plans begins to clash with his own desire to live "an unwritten life."