Dir: Terry Gilliam. UK-CzRep. 2005. 118mins.

Terry Gilliam is afilm-maker for whom the joy of cinema is more in the journey than the finaldestination. This is usually okay because of the sheer phantasmagoria of hiscreations, and the kernel of universality at the core of his colourfulidiosyncrasies. But The Brothers Grimm, the first of two Gilliamfeatures to premiere before year's end, is lost in a thicket of vagueness.

Despite boasting dense andsuitably lush production values, it's a murky adventure quest that offersseveral fantastical elements but never coalesces into anything more than anintriguing but under-executed idea.

The film, whose release hasbeen delayed at various points during the corporate divorce betweenDisney-owned Miramax and the brothers Weinstein, is release in the US on August26. There, its premise should initially intrigue those audiences, bored after asummer of predictable blockbusters, as well as Gilliam fans eager to see his firstfilm since 1998's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Damon's increasingprofile in recent years (the two Jason Bourne films have taken more than $500mworldwide, nearly 60% domestically) should also help.

But word-of-mouth maysubsequently deter broader audiences expecting either a dash ofaction-adventure or a buoyant mix of romance and comedy.

Overseas, the film receivesan international launch-pad at Venice later this month where it plays incompetition, followed by a rollout throughout the autumn. Its peculiarity andEuropean setting should help it enjoy a greater gross than the US, as hashappened with Gilliam's most recent films, aided by Monica Bellucci'smarketability in continental Europe (especially France and Italy) and HeathLedger's in Australia. Worldwide recoupment of the relatively low $75m budgetshould be within grasp.

Ancillary revenues shouldensure some sustained viability given Gilliam's stature, as the intriguingpremise will continue to lure viewers for years to come.

Unlike the states ofheightened reality in which many of Gilliam's films have recently taken place,The Brothers Grimm grounds itself in historical reality (as did TheAdventures Of Baron Munchausen, albeit more sporadically).

Set during the fading daysof 18th-century, Napoleonic Germany, it takes as its protagonists imaginedversions of the titular brothers responsible for some of the world's mostenduring fairytales.

Will Grimm (Damon) is acynical adventurer and entrepreneur for whom subterfuge makes life worthwhile.His younger brother Jacob (Ledger) is a former scholar who chronicles theiradventures in prose and together they roam the countryside, fleecing villagerswith schemes by which they vanquish phoney monsters and demons.

When French generalDelatombe (arched-brow Gilliam regular Jonathan Pryce) finally captures them,they are sent - under the oversight of Italian henchman Cavaldi (Stormare) - toa supposedly cursed forest burg where girls are disappearing. Ostensibly theGrimms are to smoke out the conmen perpetrating the same sorts of acts theycommit, stirring up discontent among the villagers.

It's here that the brothersGrimm discover the real meaning of myth and dark magic, as together withoutcast Angelika (Lena Headey) they try to unlock a 500 year-old curse and putan end to the vengeful machinations of the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci), wholives in a secluded tower in the woods.

As scripted by EhrenKruger, The Brothers Grimm feels like a somewhat sluggish rendering ofan interesting concept. Like Shrek, oddly enough, the movie makes comedic hayout of fairytale folklore, though this time through the grimy lens of aswashbuckling period piece.

The film opens briskly asWill and Jacob scam unsuspecting villagers by negotiating a fee for the"exorcism" of the spirit haunting their township, and then "killing" theapparition - which in reality is rigged and controlled by their two stuntmensidekicks, Hidlick (Mackenzie Crook) and Bunst (Richard Ridings).

Part pantomimed magic show,part con game, it comes off as an antecedent to Hollywood theme park effectsattractions - you know it's meant to be fake and you still get caught up in thethrill of it all.

But then the film starts toslow, and once the main quartet of Angelika, Cavaldi and the Grimms is settled upon,their quest - and each brother's half-hearted romantic pursuit of Angelika -becomes more akin to an obstacle run.

The brothers' contrastingtemperaments come bubbling to the fore with rich potential - after years ofsham and con, Jacob is excited about finally uncovering true fairytales - butthen quickly falls back into the formulaic adventure plot.

The pair display somefertile moments of reward in this against-type casting, with the typicallyintrospective Damon as the hotheaded Will, and the outgoing Ledger as thesensitive, stammering Jacob. But there's not enough blithe bickering to makethem stand out as an odd-couple treat.

The fantastic merging ofglorious fantasy and nightmare reality that characterise many of Gilliam'smovies, from Time Bandits and Brazil to The Fisher Kingand Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, here feel too pedestrian compared tohis previous more thrilling efforts.

Gilliam pays homage to thegrandness and ghoulishness of the Grimm legacy by interweaving severalrecognisable fairytale figures (Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel)into the proceedings, but these have little impact on the overall plot.

He also misses severalopportunities to show more of his own hand with the material from which he isworking. There are many instances ripe for potential quirk that merely lay flat(hardly typical of a normal Gilliam film). And the chance to tease the brothersinto dizzying paranoia, as the magic they never really believed in finallybecomes tangibly real, only ever amounts to the third act obstacle.

Bellucci brings avoluptuous malevolence to her role, but its a small part that sees herunder-utilized as for much of the film she lies bedridden in hideous hagmake-up, awaiting her restored youth.

Cinematographer Newton ThomasSigel (The Usual Suspects) and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (X2)craft a suitably grubby frame - all knotted trees, cloudy skies and lingeringfog and shadow. Dario Marianelli's score, too, proves a delight.

But at times Gilliamconjures up imagery that is too reminiscent of other films (possibly theproblem is the amount of fantasy features that have appeared in his absence).

One sequence where thetrees of the forest come to life, is over-reminiscent of The Lord Of TheRings, while the Big Bad Wolf that's more than he seems recalls Underworld.

Production companies
Mosaic Media Group
Daniel Bobker
Dimension Films
Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Pictures
Mosaic Media Group

US distribution

International sales

Executive producers
John D Schofield
Chris McGurk
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Jonathan Gordon
Andrew Rona

Charles Roven
Daniel Bobker

Ehren Kruger

Newton Thomas Sigel, with additional photography by Nicola Pecorini

Production design
Guy Hendrix Dyas

Lesley Walker

Dario Marianelli

Main cast
Matt Damon
Heath Ledger
Peter Stormare
Lena Headey
Jonathan Pryce
Tomas Hanak
Julian Bleach
Monica Bellucci