'The Brothers Grimsby'
If nothing else, you’ve got to admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s balls. Beyond being a comedic genius, the guy is fearless. The way he risked his personal safety to create a new form of confrontational cinematic comedy in ‘Borat’ and ‘Bruno’ was insane and unprecedented. Generally, when comedies are as popular and culturally defining as ‘Borat’, a wave of imitators follow. But that didn’t happen in this case because no one else can do what he does. In fact, not even he does what he does anymore.
For now, Cohen has given up his punk reality satires in favor of more straightforward scripted comedy, yet even those are fairly fearless in their relentless assault on anything resembling good taste. His latest movie, ‘The Brothers Grimsby’, doesn’t strive for anything beyond entertainment. It’s just a series of outrageously stupid and filthy gags punctuated by action sequences. Not all of the jokes hit, but all of them hit below the belt. For those who enjoy the guy’s particular brand of filth, it’s a relentlessly entertaining bit of work. While it’s disappointing that Cohen’s ambitions aren’t as high anymore, who cares when the laughs are this plentiful? There will likely be better and smarter movies this year, but I find it hard to believe any will be this funny.
The plot is simple enough to fit on a cocktail napkin. Cohen stars as Nobby, a drunken soccer hooligan whose greatest skills are his ability to impregnate his wife (Rebel Wilson) and his dedication to getting trashed on the regular. Years ago, he was separated from his brother and has spent the rest of his life desperately hoping to reconnect. That brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), turned into an MI-6 super spy specializing in death defying missions. His latest mission is to prevent an assassination in the World Health Organization that goes south when Nobby shows up and screws everything up. Next thing you know, the brothers are united fleeing for their lives and just might end up teaching each other life lessons while saving the world.
Yeah, it’s simple stuff and Cohen never pretends otherwise. The movie doesn’t even have the sneaky satirical intent found in Cohen’s ‘The Dictator’. ‘The Brothers Grimsby’ is a pure entertainment and laugh factory that succeeds purely because it delivers on those promises.
Cohen’s latest comedic creation is a distinctly moronic character that fits in well with his previous dumbbells. Once again, a wacky accent is at the center. This one is Cockney. Nobby is a lower class palooka living in a burned-out town named Grimsby that is jokingly compared to Chernobyl as a “sister city.” He’s an idiot and an alcoholic and irresponsible in every conceivable way. However, he’s also lovable and endearingly obsessed with family. That’s the trick to all of Cohen’s comedic provocations. No matter how horrible the character behaves, he’s ultimately a sweetheart that you can’t help but enjoy. On the other hand, Strong plays growling straight man (as does pretty much everyone else in the supporting cast) and does so brilliantly no matter how absolutely revolting and embarrassing a scene that Cohen shoves him into.
The filth flies fast and furiously in ‘The Brothers Grimsby’ with barely a second passing without some sort of bodily fluid or genital slapping against one of the stars’ faces (usually near their mouths). It’s uncomfortable and gross and wrong and hilarious for those who aren’t too snobbishly superior to laugh at a naughty joke. A few of the big set-pieces push the gross-out material so far that you have to applaud the ingenuity, daring and commitment that Cohen puts into cracking the sort of gag you typically hear in the back row of a high school biology class. The guy can raise pure filth to an art form like few others, and good lord do the laughs hit hard. Sure, there’s not much satire or even social consciousness beyond mild commentary on class warfare and accepting scum and slobs as a key component of society. That’s nice, if not particularly revelatory. Frankly, just watching Cohen let his freak flag fly in mainstream entertainment feels refreshing and subversive in such culturally sensitive times, no satire required.
Director Louis Leterrier (‘The Transporter’, ‘The Incredible Hulk’) was clearly hired for his skill with action scenes and delivers some good ones. In particular, a few POV set-pieces are stunners and fly by at a crisp pace without detracting from the comedy. In fact, the entire 83-minute movie is paced like a freight train even when there isn’t a gun or explosion in sight. The filmmakers cut ‘The Brothers Grimsby’ to the bone, at times sacrificing narrative logic or closure and undoubtedly leaving chunks of supporting performances by the likes of Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane on the cutting room floor. Some might claim it’s almost overly stripped down, but for me that’s vital.
‘The Brothers Grimsby’ is a gleefully frivolous romp through Cohen’s perverted mind and there’s no sense in dwelling on anything since it doesn’t have much depth. The movie was created purely to entertain and it does that from start to finish with the few clunker jokes followed up too swiftly to derail the comedy. It’s a goof and a blast. If you like Cohen or just good old-fashioned raunchy comedy, do yourself a favor and see this flick on opening weekend with the biggest possible crowd. This might not be a masterpiece, but it’s definitely one of those comedies that will turn a packed audience into giggling schoolchildren unable to contain their riotous response to puerile entertainment. That’s a great experience to share with a crowd and ‘The Brothers Grimsby’ delivers the goods. There’s nothing wrong with dumb when dumb is done well.