Coming after Rian Johnson’s delightful and inventive 2005 film “Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom” can’t help but look like sophomore jinx on a sizable scale.
If you haven’t caught up with “Brick,” check it out. The film created a hard-boiled scenario, complete with wiseguy jargon, but set in a flat, modern high-school world, as though Raymond Chandler had re-written a Zac Efron vehicle.
I’d like to keep writing about how good “Brick” is, but we have “The Brothers Bloom” beckoning. And this is a tougher film to like.
It kicks off with a deft but derivative opening sequence, which provides a thumbnail history of Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), brothers whose lives since childhood have been consumed with Stephen’s elaborately complicated con games, which assume the size and length of epic novels.
After putting up with this for a couple of decades, the morose Bloom wants out. But Stephen is persuasive, and when he proposes a wealthy, and lonely, heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz) as his next quarry, Bloom gets pulled in.
The problem with Stephen (and maybe it’s a problem for the movie) is that you never know when his scams begin or end. This leads to some entertaining reversals and twists, but is vaguely off-putting when it goes for two hours of screen time.
The story is set in a variety of colorful international locations, such as Prague, St. Petersburg, and the coast of Montenegro. Everything about it trundles along in high style, from the anachronistic clothes to the impossibly spendy locations.
But this kind of lighter-than-air fare needs a sure touch. Somehow with “The Brothers Bloom,” you can always tell that Johnson is going to turn serious on us, as indeed he does in the final sections.
Another issue is the casting. Maybe if Ruffalo and Brody had traded roles something might have sparked, but neither is gifted with the sort of elan the movie calls for.
Rachel Weisz, on the other hand, is effervescent and playful in a way the boys can’t match. There’s also amusing support from Rinko Kikuchi, Oscar nominee for “Babel,” as the brothers’ inexplicably constant (but mostly silent) accomplice, and Robbie Coltrane as a man known as the Curator.
The film’s puckish quality looks as though it springs from too many viewings of Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
But when Johnson already had his own distinctive style in “Brick,” why go poaching on another filmmaker’s turf?
“The Brothers Bloom”
Two brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) shoot for one final con game, involving a lonely heiress (effervescent Rachel Weisz). Rian Johnson’s film aims to be a lighter-than-air concoction, but struggles awfully hard to get aloft.
Rated: PG-13 for subject matter