Why is it so hard to make a persuasive movie about brothers? Defiance reduced the amazing real-life story of the Bielski brothers, who established "a Jerusalem in the woods" in the Belorussian forest, to a cliched shoot-'em-up with a guilty conscience. Wes Anderson has made a series of films, most recently The Darjeeling Limited, about brothers connected more by tics and grudges than by loyalty and feeling.
Films that caught something piercingly intimate about fraternal bonds haunted the childhood hours I spent watching classic movies on TV; I'll never forget the Dumas-derived Corsican Brothers, about twins so close in spirit they literally feel each other's pain. And The Godfather and The Godfather Part II dominated my adolescent moviegoing, with its emotion-charged vision of brothers jockeying for respect within a ruling family that reflected the volatility of 20th-century America.
These days, brothers are more likely to be the second bananas in dating comedies. They're not treated with vitality and deep, robust humor, even in today's independent and art movies.
If watching Alfonso Cuaron's marvelous, booby-trapped buddy film, Y tu mama tambie n , made you yearn to see its inspired leads, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, do a Latin version of Dumb and Dumber - well, Alfonso's writer-director brother, Carlos Cuaron, has granted your wish. Rudo y Cursi stars Bernal and Luna as half brothers from a backwater Mexican banana plantation who rise to the top of Mexico City soccer despite their easily distracted natures and outright stupidity. Fans nickname Bernal's goalkeeper character "Rudo" for his tough defense of the goal. Luna's freewheeling forward gets tagged "Cursi," because he's sweeter or cornier than his brother, even in the emotional way he plays the game.
Despite the fake-wise narration by a been-there, done-that talent scout (Guillermo Francella) - he compares soccer to warfare and a soccer ball to a woman - the movie generates some ribald energy at the outset. Rudo and Cursi strive to reach comparable levels of fame while retaining their fraternal good will. For writer-director Cuaron, their status as half brothers for a brief while works wonders: It provokes original ways for them to insult each other's fathers. It also rouses our fascination with the characteristics they share and the many they don't.
Once they achieve success, there's no place for them and the movie to go but down - to the pits. We watch, more bored than aghast, as Rudo succumbs to gambling debts and cocaine, while Cursi wastes his energy on a shallow and ambitious TV personality (Jessica Mas) and a dead-end singing career (he does a spangly, amateur-hour version of "I Want You to Want Me"). Even when the movie's tone is antic, the action is leaden. Fans have called it a clever strategy, but Cuaron's inability or reluctance to stage much soccer leeches the vitality from a movie that ends in an epochal on-field confrontation between the title characters. With brief pops of wit followed by endless dribbles of action, Rudo y Cursi just about defines the word "fizzle."
Another movie about a pair of mismatched siblings, The Brothers Bloom, suffers from a combination of mental fidgeting and tired blood. The Bloom brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) have been scam artists since they escaped from foster homes in early youth, working increasingly elaborate and long-term cons that Stephen (Ruffalo) lays out partly for the art of it. He wants to set up stings the way Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky did novels, but the brother known only as Bloom (Brody) rankles at the way Stephen ends up scripting out their lives. When you hear their gorgeous, tight-lipped Asian partner Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) described as an "artist" of explosives, you know the whole movie is crazy for art but willing to settle for mere gimmicks.
The arch chapter headings, the put-ons within put-ons, the jump from a small-town American childhood to Eurochic milieus - they all suggest a writer-director who is stuck in his own head. Only Rachel Weisz gives The Brothers Bloom some real-life kick as a neglected heiress who has spent her life mastering odd skills: She can even transform a watermelon into a pinhole camera. The montage depicting her talents is like a talent reel for an actress who can do anything. She conjures some melancholy chemistry with the poetical Brody. Otherwise, the movie is a Neverland for those in their 20s. Buyers, and brothers, beware.
Rudo y Cursi
(Sony Pictures Classics) Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Directed by Carlos Cuaron. Rated R for language and sexuality. Time 103 minutes. * 1/2
The Brothers Bloom
(Summit Entertainment) Starring Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Rian Johnson. Rated R for language and sexuality. Time 113 minutes. * 1/2