A film review by Craig J. Koban March 19, 2016

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY jj

2016, R, 82 mins.

 

Sacha Baron Cohen as Carl "Nobby" Butcher  /  Mark Strong as Agent Sebastian Butcher  /  Isla Fisher as Jodie Figgis  /  Annabelle Wallis as Marianne  /  Gabourey Sidibe as Baun the Cleaner  /  Rebel Wilson as Dawn Grobham

Directed by Louis Leterrier  /  Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston and Peter Baynham

I have absolutely no idea how I’m supposed to review this film, nor do I truly know whether I should recommend it on any tangible level.  

Granted, that’s precisely what a film critic is supposed to do with every review, but THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY throws real qualitative curveballs at its audience throughout its mercifully brief 82 minute running time.  On one hand, this new comedy/satire contains some genuinely funny beats that made me laugh hard and long.  Conversely, though, it also contains scenes so puerile and absolutely tasteless that I wanted to abruptly leave the screening during them out of protest.  I’ve been a film critic for nearly 12 years and no film has simultaneously amused and revolted me as much as THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY. 

The fact that the film is produced, co-written, and stars Sacha Baron Cohen doesn't surprise me, seeing as he has ostensibly made a cinematic career of playing outlandish personalities in film comedies that went out of their way to shock audiences while also slyly and subversively commenting on our current socio-political times.  It could easily be said that with each new Cohen effort there has been ever increasing diminishing returns (he hit hilarious high notes with BORAT a decade ago, followed that up with the not-as-good, but still solid BRUNO, and then latter made THE DICTATOR, a decent, but somewhat inconsistent effort for him).  Perhaps part of the problem with Cohen’s career is that he began it as a guerrilla-style provocateur doing literally anything to secure laughs by the seat of his pants, but in films like THE DICTATOR and now THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY he’s taking a more traditional and conventional approach.  Worse yet, THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY lacks the scathing satiric jabs at its subject matter that typified Cohen’s previous films.  That, and the film ups the ante on disgusting bodily function humor, which makes Cohen’s efforts here feel more desperate than assured and daring. 

 

 

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is, I think, trying to skewer both the action/spy film genres while lampooning certain aspects of the British working class…but the film never fully hones in on one over the other, much to its detriment.  The film introduces us to  a pair of estranged brothers, one of whom, Sebastian (Mark Strong), is an incredibly empowered MI6 secret agent that’s tasked with shutting down a brutal terrorist syndicate that’s planning a major attack somewhere in the world.  His older brother could not be anymore different: Nobby (Cohen) is a soccer-worshiping hooligan and all-out loser of the highest order that lives in the ramshackle town of Grimsby.  He has been trying, as he can, to reunite himself with his brother, largely because they have not seen each other in nearly three decades.  To look at the two men in the film it’s a bloody miracle that they are genetically linked at all. 

Fate, as it always does, steps in when Nobby is reunited with Sebastian during a crucial mission by the latter to protect a philanthropist (Penelope Cruz) from being assassinated.  Alas, because Nobby is a total bumbling jackass he accidentally prevents his sibling from killing the assassin, which leads to Sebastian wrongly being labeled as a prime suspect in the attempted murder plot, forcing him to go on the run with Nobby.  Seeing this as a golden opportunity to reconnect with the brother he has lost for 28 years, Nobby yearns for some heart-to-heart time with Sebastian, whereas he – completely distraught over his mission failure – begrudgingly sticks with Nobby in an effort to stay hidden from those that wish to apprehend him.  While evading multiple and seemingly unstoppable adversaries wanting to end their lives rather quickly, Sebastian and Nobby go on the run, but along the way they uncover a truly dastardly plot that may kill thousands at a very particular sporting event that has great personal significance to Nobby. 

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY does have a few things going for it, emphasis on “a few.”  For starters, the film is inexplicably, but stylishly directed by Louis Leterrier, arguably the last person you’d think of to helm a Cohen-starring comedy.  Leterrier does a reasonably good job at times quarterbacking some of the film’s many action beats, especially during one bravura sequence the involves Sebastian mowing his way through multiple villainous scum, all shot in a video game-esque first-person perspective that’s quite breathlessly exhilarating to experience.  Beyond the film’s displayed aptitude for action, it also benefits from the odd couple chemistry of Cohen and Strong.  Cohen, rather predictably, can play mentally comatose dummies in his sleep with modest ease and is good at it (he's also not afraid to commit himself to do just about anything for a cheap giggle), but Strong himself gets a lion’s share of the film’s few hearty laughs, mostly out of his pricelessly incredulous reactions to Nobby’s tomfoolery and for playing his role reasonably straight.  Strong might be the only actor alive to seriously deadpan a line like “Because of you the leader of the World Health Organization is dead and Harry Potter has AIDS” without breaking the solemnity of his character at all. 

The main calamitous problem with THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY that systematically derails it from achieving the level of daring merriment that typified Cohen’s previous films is that it’s aggressively awash in far too many scenes that are visibly revolting to the point of eliciting a gag reflex.  I am not a movie prude.  Very few things significantly offend me while watching comedies, but THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY hit a raw nerve multiple times in this regard.  There’s a fundamental difference between being raunchily edgy and simply stomach churningly gross, but this film skewers itself towards the latter.  I thought that a sequence – mostly funny – early on in the film showcasing Nobby running around a pub with a live firecracker up his rear end (don’t ask) would be the most unrefined thing that I would see here.  I was wrong.  Terribly wrong.  One scene, for example, has Sebastian being shot with a poison dart in the shoulder, after which time he pleads with Nobby to suck the venom out.  He does, but then Sebastian reveals to Nobby that he was also hit in the genitals and requires immediate – ahem! - attention.  You can use your imagination to foresee how this scene transpired from there. 

Another sequence in the film is certainly the most nauseating one that I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.  Sebastian and Nobby are on the run in South Africa (again...don’t ask) and try to elude capture from their pursuers by – not making this up – taking cover inside the vagina of an elephant.  Now, crawling in there was sickening enough, but the real horror of their situation rears – pardon the expression – its ugly head when a horny male elephant strolls in with a massive erection and then…well…again…use the sickest recesses of your imagination to predict what happens next.  You know, it’s one thing when a film like this displays pathetic desperation in drumming up witless and would-be topical gags involving AIDS, homophobia, diseased children in wheelchairs, Donald Trump’s ego and Bill Cosby’s sexual appetites (as some examples) or even scraping the bottom of the comedic barrel by blatantly plagiarizing a verbal zinger from an old Celebrity Jeopardy sketch on Saturday Night Live.  However, it’s a whole other deplorable matter to think that a group of people in front of and behind the camera believed that it would be amusing to have its main characters sodomized by an elephant and then get slimmed by gallons of its ejaculate.  While enduring such inhuman indignities on screen I felt like assuming the fetal position and crying in my theater chair.

Why the hell am I even giving THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY two stars?  Well, the film does has some laughs that are not at the expense of icky human (or animal) biology, like a late moment when Nobby discovers – during one life and death instance – how easy it is to point a gun and kill people, which is funny in the context of the types of movies that THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is sending up.  I also laughed uproariously when some of Nobby’s fellow pub goons attack enemies in hot pursuit of him and Sebastian; one throws a wheelchair out of a window at the villains…and seconds later a barking dog is thrown out the same window (this is also the same bar that earlier had a diaper adorned baby with an English flag painted on his face strolling through it with a beer in hand).  That’s all kind of sidesplitting.   Alas, THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is simply too disorganized, too crude, and too scattershot for its own good and one that’s utterly bereft of the type of sharp observational humor of the best of Cohen’s big screen comedic catalogue.   

I will say two things in closing:  

Mark Strong is a really, really, really, really good sport in this film…and I’m never going near an elephant for as long as I live.

  H O M E