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film review ***1/2

A Cheerfully Grim Experience

By Bill Andrews

The Brothers Grimm

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Written by Ehren Kruger

Starring Matt Damon, Heath Ledger

Rated PG-13

Once more I must fall back on that lovely word to describe a movie most succinctly: weird. But unlike “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” where I last used this description, “The Brothers Grimm” is slightly less accessibly weird. That is, it just might be too weird for some of you. But it’s the truth, and you should think long and hard if you really want to see “The Brothers Grimm.” Do random, seconds-long fairy tale references excite you? Does humor mixed in with the heat and fire of drama get you going? Do totally unexpected plot twists do it for you? If so, then I recommend this movie to you. If not, well, I believe “Herbie: Fully Loaded” is still playing.

Not too surprisingly, the movie follows the adventures of the brothers Grimm, those fairy tale authors we thought we knew so well. Will (Matt Damon) is the charismatic front man of the duo, who go around French-occupied Germany at the end of the 18th century ridding villages of evil that their buddies are cooking up. Jacob (Heath Ledger) is the more artistic, poetic brother, who is collecting all of the tales he takes part in and hears, in a handsome book that destined for greatness. But their adventures take a turn for the worse when the French government summons them to investigate what appears to be genuine witchcrafty evilness. Humor, adventure, and crazy violence ensue.

Now, to be fair I must warn you that what I’m about to tell, though not revealing any of the plot, will be giving something of the movie away that I was genuinely surprised at. At times, it’s a pretty horrific movie. If you were thinking, as did I, that “The Brothers Grimm” was this year’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” you’re only half right: yes, they’re both fun movies where adventure reigns supreme, but no, it’s not family friendly. At all. Whether bloody knives, gruesome deaths, gory decapitations, or exploding pets, there’s something for everyone who likes violence.

Indeed, the film never seems to take itself too seriously, which is just as well when you have witches and wolfmen flying around. It’s a funny film, and even in the midst of the horror and drama and suspense, there might be some joke or gag thrown in; the best part is it’s still funny. Neither Damon nor Ledger are strangers when it comes to comedy, and the rest of the no-name cast knows how to turn a phrase (or give an amusing look, or shake of the hands) as well.

Ledger gives an especially powerful performance as the beleaguered always set-upon younger brother; I couldn’t recognize in him the cocky soldier or the bad boy high schooler I knew him best as. Damon’s part probably wasn’t as big a stretch for him, of course, but he pulls it off well, and it does my heart good to see him called Will once again.

And the fairy tales! Ooh, baby, they got some good references in. From the obvious Hans and Greta leaving bread crumbs in the woods to the merest allusion of a “goblin whose name we once had to guess.” It was a bit like seeing “George Lucas in Love,” (or even “Shakespeare in Love”) but with fairy tales; plus, you know, more blood. And, as always when fairy tales are involved, there lie the hints of morals and life lessons throughout the movie, but fortunately it’s pretty subtle and not crucial to the plot.

But in the end, how was it? Well, I like adventure, I like humor, I like weird things, and I don’t mind violence, so I thought it was pretty great. A tweak here or there would have earned it four stars from me, but as it is it’s still not bad. After all, in a summer season when it seems like everything is either a sequel or a remake, it’s refreshing to see a movie that’s completely original (well, except for the fairy tales). Can we take this as an indication of Hollywood to come, of thoughtful original movies in the future? While it would let me live Happily Ever After, I’m afraid that’s probably just one more fairy tale.