The movie is too violent for anyone who might have found it humorous.
By ROGER MOORE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
We should all strive to fail -- if fail occasionally we must -- like Terry Gilliam.
No whimpering, skulking off into the box-office night for the man who has challenged studios with hits like "Brazil" and "Twelve Monkeys," and vexed them with epic flops like "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen."
"The Brothers Grimm" is Gilliam's latest fiasco. It isn't a movie stillborn in mid-production, as Gilliam's "Don Quixote" proved to be.
But "Grimm" is a bit like "Brazil," victimized by studio interference and withheld from release.
Not that this is entirely Miramax's fault. "Brothers Grimm" is mostly just wrongheaded, and grandly, extravagantly so.
His conceit, with the help of screenwriter Ehren Kruger, is to imagine the great German fairy-tale gatherers as Ghostbusters. No fooling. These Grimm brothers, played with a struggling bonhomie by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, travel the countryside of Napoleonic Europe, hoaxing rural rubes out of cash to rid them of ghosts, witches, curses and the like.
Then, "once upon a time," ladies-man Will (Damon) and bookish folklorist Jake (Ledger) run afoul of the occupying French. They're tortured by Jonathan Pryce, in a mincing French accent.
"Eet ees a thorn in my toe," he says of their work.
They're sent to a town where children are disappearing. Exorcise this town's demons or else, says Officer Cavaldi, played with a devilish abandon by Peter Stormare.
The fetching but no-nonsense woodslady Angelika (Lena Headley) agrees to take the boys into the forest. But once there, they're on their own. And all their tricks and schemes come to naught.
Fortunately, Jake has been gathering folk tales. He kind of knows what to expect and what to do when they come upon a castle tower where a woman with really long hair resides, what to do when you spy a frog, what answer that "mirror mirror, on the wall" wants, or where the child with the red riding hood might have gone.
So you have two cynics faced with the supernatural, frauds lost in a real enchanted forest. A slam-dunk for Gilliam, right?
Not really. Troubles? He lost a cast that at one time might have included Robin Williams, Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Samantha Morton and Johnny Depp.
The original studio dropped out. Gilliam shot part of it, saw Miramax fire his cinematographer, halted production and came back later, problems that are perfectly evident in the "finished" film.
It's meant to be an amber-tinted lark. But there's a serious whimsy shortage in this stumbling and morbid tromp through children's literature.
Yes, the Grimms' tales were often grim, with wolves eating this or witches cooking that. Trying to play that for laughs was smart, but finding those laughs proves elusive.
It's too violent for children and too inane for anybody else. Cute bits here and there can't hide the fact that the fairy tales will endure long after everybody involved in this is pretending it never happened.