Terry Gilliam directing a movie based on fairy telling legends the Brothers Grimm? On paper and given the filmmaker's knack with the otherworldly, it must have seemed like a match made in motion picture heaven. Unfortunately, heaven has turned out to be a bit of winter-bound hell in the form of The Brothers Grimm.
Will (Matt Damon, looking like a 1960s British pop singer) and Jake (Heath Ledger, just looking plain lost) Grimm are brothers who travel around the Napoleonic countryside, conning scared villagers out of their money by pretending to fight and vanquish supernatural foes such as ghosts and witches.
Soon enough, the French authorities (in the form of Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare) catch up with the boys and force them to contend with a real supernatural force: a witch known as the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci) who has been terrorizing a local village. The witch, trapped in a tower deep inside an enchanted forest, has been snatching young children, such as Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, in an attempt to regain her lost youth and beauty. With the help of a local villager named Angelika (Lena Headley), the boys set out to rescue the children and stop the queen.
There are commendable aspects of The Brothers Grimm: the sets, costumes and Newton Thomas Sigel's (who replaced Nicola Pecorini) cinematography are all impressive, and there is the occasional moment where Gilliam's brilliantly off-kilter imagination and humour shine through - such as the appearance of a demonic Gingerbread Man - that are reminiscent of The Time Bandits or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
But the negatives outweigh the positives by a wide margin. Ehren Kruger, whose poison pen brought us such gems as the remakes of The Ring, Scream 3, The Skeleton Key and Reindeer Games, wrote the script and it is a disjointed, dull-as-dishwasher mess. The characters, despite the best efforts of a talented cast, are flat and irritating, and the story's tone is bipolar, uneasily moving between farce (possibly the result of Mr Gilliam's reported script doctoring), adventure and horror, all of which fall flat in the process. Given his less than sterling track record, one has to wonder if Mr Kruger can sign his name on his paychecks without sending it out for several rewrites.
But to lay all the blame on Mr K is unfair. 1998's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas aside, I have found Terry Gilliam one of the few directors in Hollywood that can deliver truly original and unique visions, match them with compelling stories and characters and do so at a pace that is breathtaking without being exhausting. Unfortunately, his work here displays very little if any of that trademark creativity or style. Plodding from one scene to the next without any sense of urgency or energy, it is almost as if he was bored with the entire production from the start. If so, Mr Gilliam, I feel your pain.
Gilliam feuded with soon-to-be former Miramax honchos Bob and Harvey Weinstein over The Brothers Grimm for a year, which may explain the lengthy delay to its release. I am not sure who won that war, but it is certainly not the audience. This is a train wreck of a movie - minus the train.