A screwball comedy for the New Depression, "The Brothers Bloom" makes an abundant number of erudite references that mean almost nothing, and, like most con-man movies, it can't be trusted. Everything is almost what it seems, even the dialogue by writer-director Rian Johnson. "He writes life the way dead Russians write novels," says Bloom (Adrien Brody) of his brother, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo). Which is not quite what he means, of course. But like most of "The Brothers Bloom," it's close enough for farce.
Ricky Jay narrates the story, about brothers who are born con artists, booted from foster home to foster home as kids for various infractions from insubordination to larceny, no one noticing that they manage to dress like Franz Kafka circa 1893 Bohemia or that they're capable of conning an entire fifth grade. The highly stagy intro to the mini-Blooms is probably the best set piece in the film, which is all archness and set pieces, leading to the brothers -- accompanied by a beautiful, wordless assistant named Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) -- working their game on an heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz, who alone is reason enough to see this movie).
Like Johnson's debut movie, "Brick," "The Brothers Bloom" is all about exploding forms, tropes and archetypes. But it's also a charmer, a witty sandbagging of one's resistance to fairy tale and a movie afflicted with a kind of comic Tourette's syndrome. It's "Jules and Jim" with allusions to Joyce and Homer, but one needn't have read "The Odyssey" to enjoy "Brothers Bloom" any more than one needed it to enjoy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" In fact, too much learning is not only a dangerous thing, it's also a distraction.