Aggressively zany and precocious (but only half smart), The Brothers Bloom may be the first movie you’ll feel like spanking, or at least strongly disciplining. It’s the kind of desperately eccentric comedy that costumes its heroes in matching black hats and button-downs—even as kids, ho ho!—for that is what true con men wear. Sending Wes Anderson’s whimsy into manic overdrive, the movie introduces us to sad-eyed “Bloom” (Brody, “cleverly” left without a first name) and crafty Stephen (Ruffalo), a pair of ambitious grifters who banter in screenwriterese, consort with a silent explosives expert called Bang Bang (Babel’s Kikuchi, single-handedly reviving the inscrutable Asian) and shuttle mechanically to wherever the whims of a showy camera angle or rhyming Ricky Jay narration take them.
We’ve only just finished defending writer-director Rian Johnson from charges of stuntiness in his 2005 high-school noir, Brick, but maybe he’s the wrong pony to bet on. The Brothers Bloom reveals a limited formal artist who relies on cutesy montages and a Cat Stevens song to glom onto borrowed emotion. Most dispiritingly, Johnson takes the exquisitely fragile Rachel Weisz and harshes her into one of those kooky dreamgirls with strange hobbies (here, it’s harp playing and chain-saw juggling) found only in tiresome indie cinema. Penelope was this script’s working title, and that gives you an indication of Johnson’s sophomoric take on the character: an ultrarich lovely with a yellow Lamborghini who becomes the target of an inevitable “one last job.” There is no romantic payoff between the capable Weisz and Brody, and no wisdom, either; indeed, what the hell was this movie all about? You feel conned.—Joshua Rothkopf