The hints of glib cleverness that hovered around Rian Johnson’s debut, “Brick,” burst into full, glaring view in his cheeky follow-up, “The Brothers Bloom.” As a pair of brothers raised to be topnotch grifters, Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are seldom allowed to play off of each other amid the film’s breathless busyness and adoration for eccentricity — and, even more problematically, for the cinema of Wes Anderson. The more elaborate the twists, the slighter the project becomes, leaving little impression and smaller B.O. prospects for Summit’s targeted December release and January rollout.
Fable-like opener (narrated by magician-actor Ricky Jay) intros the brothers as born con artists, with Bloom (Brody) — whose first name is never revealed — the sensitive one and Stephen (Ruffalo) the mastermind who plots their cons with literary pretentiousness, using Bloom as his narrative “hero.”
This, like several other elements in Johnson’s script, proves vastly more interesting in description than in the playing, regardless of the energy Brody and Ruffalo bring to it.
Burned out after 25 years of training (by Maximilian Schell’s crafty master, Diamond Dog) and conning, Bloom wants out. Stephen wants him for one final con, targeting loony East Coast heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz), with whom Bloom just can’t resist falling in love.
The role of Penelope is designed in part to upend the con men’s scenarios, and the only true spark in “The Brothers Bloom” is Weisz’s lonely eccentric, blossoming under the sunshine of an adventure. Her perf roundly steals the pic but also sends it out of whack, uncertain of its bearings.
Johnson’s technical control has impressively advanced, but this feels like even more of a pastiche film than “Brick” did, with its smartass allusions to film noir. This is a director who’s full of beans but perhaps little else, and his taste for a woolly kind of spectacle is enormously aided by the fine cadre of lenser Steve Yedlin, production designer Jim Clay and costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor.