MOVIE REVIEW- Conned: <i>Brothers Bloom</i> doesn't quite pull it off


The more movies you see about con artists (The Sting, The Spanish Gardener, The Grifters, Nine Queens, House of Games, Paper Moon, Confidence, The Flim-Flam Man, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, etc.), the harder it should be for the next one to fool you.

Maybe that's why The Brothers Bloom hardly even tries. It establishes early on that it's not required to explain things to you– how one person locates another, how someone gets off scot-free after being caught red-handed; so it doesn't earn your trust enough to violate it.

Writer-director Rian Johnson, who made the overrated Brick, channels Wes Anderson with this quirky, somewhat likable comedy that misfires where it counts.

Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) is the older brother. The younger is known simply as Bloom (Adrien Brody). By the time they're 13 and 10 they've been in 38 different foster homes. Narrator Ricky Jay says the story's going to jump forward 20 years, almost at the same time a title announces it's "Berlin, 25 years later."

By now the brothers are experienced con men, operating internationally. Stephen is the brains of the operation, having learned the art of the Big Con from their mentor, Diamond Dog (Maximillian Schell). Bloom is forever trying to get out. After playing invented characters since childhood, he's eager to live "an unwritten life."

The dialogue is full of lines that sound italicized because we know they'll be relevant later, whether they're generalizations ("The perfect con is where everyone involved gets just the thing they wanted," "The trouble with stage blood is that real blood turns brown after 30 minutes," "The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat") or specifics ("I'll never ask you to do another con again," "The day I con you is the day I die"). What we don't know is whether they'll be consistent or understandable when they recur.

The plot gets started when Stephen picks the mark for their "last job." Penelope (Rachel Weisz) lives alone in New Jersey, in "the largest private residence on the Eastern seaboard." Because she doesn't socialize she's taught herself a wide range of solitary hobbies that make an amusing montage but have nothing to do with what follows, except for one karate kick and a couple of references to her as an "epileptic photographer."

Predictably Bloom falls in love with Penelope. He tries to avoid it because he's in the process of cheating her out of a fortune, but it looks like he'll eventually have to choose between her and his brother.

Assisting the brothers in this con is The Curator (Robbie Coltrane), a Belgian who sounds like a cross between Hercule Poirot and Inspector Clouseau. Having traveled with them for years is Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), "an artist with nitroglycerine" and mostly silent partner who will stay with them "'til the wind changes."

The scene shifts from Berlin, to Montenegro, to New Jersey, to Greece, to Prague, to Mexico, to St. Petersburg, though most of the filming was done in Romania.

Like a con artist, the movie tries various approaches to make you like it, including an occasional Seussian rhyme in the opening narration. It's largely successful in a general sense but fails to set up an interesting con with surprising twists. When it tries to pull the rug out from under you, which is what these movies have to do, your reaction is less likely to be "OMG!" than "Yeah, I figured that was coming."

The Brothers Bloom isn't likely to con many people out of the price of a movie ticket, but if you wait to rent the video or watch it on cable, everyone involved should get just the thing they wanted.