If there was only a bit more romantic chemistry in Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, it might warrant comparison to classic comic capers such as Trouble in Paradise and To Catch a Thief. Alas, this still-entertaining second feature from the skilled creator of Brick stands mostly as a testament to its maker’s considerable talent. This lark of a movie has the wild energy of a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon and the storybook conception of a Wes Anderson film. It introduces its two ingenious con men brothers to us in an opening sequence that feels like a children’s book (one, at least, that is narrated by the oily-tongued Ricky Jay) before jumping forward a few decades to find Bloom (Adrian Brody), the younger of the two, in a full-blown midlife crisis.
Ready to quit his grifter lifestyle in the hopes of finally feeling something real, Bloom is talked into one last con, which brings him into direct contact with the effervescent Penelope (Rachel Weisz), their eccentric mark. From the start, The Brothers Bloom sets a tone that winks at the audience. Rather than offer Mamet style hoodwinks, the film asks the audience to do as Rachel says and “enjoy the ride”. There is plenty to love here, too. The film offers what might be the year’s best costume design, a series of globetrotting backdrops, and a gleefully anarchic tone that’s encapsulated by Rinko Kikuchi's nearly wordless performance.
Problems only arise when The Brothers Bloom tries to engage emotionally. For all of its razzle-dazzle directorial invention, it can’t really manage to create a satisfactory romance. Brody and Weisz don’t exchange banter so much as they state themes. The film’s nonstop grappling with the pitfalls of living a lie only coalesces into a moving dilemma on a few occasions, and then quickly dissipates to make way for more hijinks. It’s a problem that keeps Bloom from achieving the greatness that’s within its grasp, but also one that can be easily ignored in light of the movie’s wonderful buoyancy.