Duh. From the “What were they thinking of?” school of wasted opportunities comes a disaster called The Brothers Bloom, a dismal second feature by writer-director Rian Johnson, whose first film was the moronic, quickly forgotten Brick. Working with a bigger budget and three major stars hasn’t sharpened his observations or quickened his fading pulse one iota.
The brothers in the title are Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), masters of the con, who pool their larcenous talents to make an eccentric doodle-brain heiress (Rachel Weisz) their next victim. Orphaned and bonded in childhood and mentored into crime by a degenerate Fagin figure named Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell) until they set out on their own to become gentleman thieves, the “brothers” have polished their act into a fail-safe formula. As adults, Stephen creates elaborate plots with a fiendish glee, and Bloom is the heart of the operation, playing the straight man in the setup. Stephen is driven from one escapade to the next; Bloom is moody and wants to retire after every narrow escape.
Implored to do one final job, Bloom forces Stephen to dissolve the partnership after its completion. Their mark is an eccentric, harp-playing epileptic named Penelope who makes cameras out of watermelons. (Would I make this up?) The con involves rooking the lonely heiress into investing in a scheme involving the smuggling of an ancient book from the underground catacombs of Prague Castle. She takes the bait, on one condition: that she accompanies them on the adventure. Naturally, the perfect mark turns out to be crazier than they are. The whole thing turns into a globe-trotting road movie, wafting from New Jersey to Russia to Greece, Montenegro and Tokyo while the wacko heiress gets so caught up in the con game she turns into a cross between Nancy Drew and Mata Hari as she swindles the swindlers. They travel by train, boat and caravan, joined by the brothers’ sidekick, a mute bleach-blonde Japanese femme fatale obsessed with freaky fashions and explosives named Bang Bang (played by Rinko Kikuchi, from Babel), while Bloom betrays his brother by falling in love with Penelope’s ditzy charm. I guess this is all supposed to be a comedy, but it’s so busy knocking itself out trying to be different that it only succeeds in being annoyingly hammy and trite.
As the plot twists accelerate, the movie literally chokes on the narrative contrivances that pile up like junkyard salvage. The dialogue defies analysis (“The perfect con is the one where everyone involved gets everything they wanted”; “There’s no such thing as an unwritten life—just a badly written one”) but inspires plenty of rude laughs. The slapstick sight gags and potholes in the plot just make it look silly, and the allegedly romantic finale has no impact at all. Rarely have I witnessed a bigger, sadder waste of talent. It all looks and sounds like they made it up as they went along. Scam movies don’t work unless the whole audience is scammed in the process, and The Brothers Bloom won’t bluff you for a New York minute.