Once upon a time, there was a pair of troublemaking foster kids named Stephen and Bloom, who never seemed to fit in with the other, WASPier children. So Stephen, the elder brother, pushed the two of them into a life of lucrative—and ludicrous—confidence games, condemning the younger Bloom to a lifelong identity crisis. Played as an adult—a nominal adult—by Adrien Brody, Bloom decides to escape from his brother's Svengali-like sway. But Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) counters with a promise: one last con. Bloom will seduce their final mark, the lovely Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a lonely orphan like himself but with a sizable trust fund and as many quirky hobbies as Rushmore's Max Fischer. Whisking Penelope away on his brother's globe-trotting scheme, Bloom must of course avoid falling in love. Of course.
From the very beginning, The Brothers Bloom carries the breeze from Wes Anderson's island of lost boys. It's also constantly drawing attention to itself as fiction, making it awfully reminiscent of the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This is not in itself a problem, but any dramatic threats of death and betrayal are impossible to take seriously amid all the artifice and arrested development. Yet Johnson's follow-up to the bubble-gumshoe picture Brick is a hard film to resist, because in the grand tradition of the romantic caper, everyone involved seems to be having a ball. Director Johnson nudges his actors into odd corners of beautiful foreign cities, while constructing playful visual gags out of everything from suicidal despair to erectile dysfunction.
Brody and Ruffalo, clad in matching Hasidic couture, nail their characters' fraternal dynamic. But the picture's ace in the hole is Weisz, who channels her inner 10-year-old into an actorly triumph of kewpie-doll mugging. Listen to the noise she makes when she eats Brody's face, and try keeping yours straight. Similarly delightful is Rinko Kikuchi, who plays the brothers' silent and inscrutable Japanese accomplice. It's a stereotypical role, but Kikuchi's perfect deadpan redeems it. The Brothers Bloom is one big card trick, with class to spare. Born romantics should rejoice. PG-13.
opens Friday at Fox Tower.