Am I shocked that Sacha Baron Cohen has once again pushed the boundaries of tasteful perversion to new, demonstrably scarring realms? Of course not. But, when you watch a film like Borat or Brüno, offensive content can be assumed. The Brothers Grimsby, on the other hand, is – or was supposed to be – a more narrative espionage thriller laced with Cohen’s innocence-eviscerating sense of humor. And it is, mostly. Cohen’s focus glistens with a 90s buddy-spy vibe, yet as adventure gives way to juvenility, we start to wonder whether dick jokes are merely supplemental, or if these inappropriate gags just needed a home, and Grimsby seemed like a fit enough place.
Cohen stars as Carl “Nobby” Butcher, a drunken soccer hooligan who finally reunites with his brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), after being separated at a Grimsby orphanage. Nobby, the older of the two, stayed behind so Sebastian could be adopted by a loving family. As time moved on, Nobby became a drunken family man, while Sebastian grew into a top-ranking assassin for MI6. But when Nobby learns where Sebastian’s next mission is taking place, the small-town degenerate ends up compromising his brother’s objective, and falsely frames him as a rogue turncoat. With nowhere to hide, Nobby and Sebastian reconnect as brothers, whilst fighting off MI6’s elimination attempts and a separate global terrorism threat. The Butcher boys of Grimsby are back in action, with the fate of the world resting in their semi-capable hands.
As expected, spy tactics play second fiddle to scripted debauchery, like anal punishments that would make [Insert Famous Anal-Loving Pornstar’s Name] blush. Cohen is a diabolical master of crowd-pleasing discomfort, and The Brothers Grimsby may feature his magnum opus. How, you might ask, does he top Brüno’s orgy? Or Borat‘s naked fight? Simple. A point-of-view elephant train-running soaked in ivory milkiness, that you’ll need to watch through tightly-clenched fingers. Sure, a few rockets get shoved up asses, Strong teabags Cohen, and Gabourey Sidibe gives us her gooch-eye view, but nothing beats Nobby’s soul-destroying, never-ending beastiality (?) conundrum. This is Cohen at his most squeamish, and perversely brilliant, with a commitment level too admirable to ignore.
Louis Leterrier lends his talents as director (instead of frequent collaborator Larry Charles), which leads to action sequences of a more Hollywood caliber. The Brothers Grimsby‘s elongated first-person fight sequences are a warm-up before Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry, since most of Strong’s missions are captured through his specialized contact lenses. While frantic, these furious bouts of adrenaline pack a knockout punch, as henchmen are tossed about by a badass, take-no-prisoners Strong. Cohen isn’t much of a brawler, especially when Nobby goes all Grant Theft Auto after picking up a gun, but pound for pound, when it counts, Leterrier complements Cohen’s asinine comedy with enjoyable, ass-kicking distractions.
While acknowledging how some jokes faceplant devastatingly hard, Cohen embraces – and owns – his brand of offensive, take-no-prisoners comedy. Given a more nonchalant approach to gaping-asshole jokes, The Brothers Grimsby wouldn’t be worth a single pence. But, admittedly, laughter came easy, no matter how turned my stomach felt. It’s the kind of comedy that’s worth going to Hell over. Shoot a handicapped Israeli/Palestinian boy with AIDS once, shame on you. Shoot a handicapped Israeli/Palestinian boy with AIDS twice, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and go straight to the Devil’s doorstep – where Cohen would then be applauded for giving Donald Trump AIDS. Yes. There’s an entire gag dedicated to giving Donald Trump AIDS. Along with Harry Potter. Did I already mention that Cohen’s sense of humor is
a bit off color absolutely fucking despicable (and that’s what we need)?
Cohen goes for broke, but to Strong’s credit, the typically stone-faced pillar of machismo refuses to be shown up. Strong takes his elephant-sized facial like the sperm-soaked champion he his, and has no problem letting Cohen suck on his (hopefully prosthetic) testies. Cohen gets huge laughs (as Nobby) during some “emotional” brotherhood shots, when cameras slow down and zoom-in on his elated face, but Sebastian’s rolling with Nobby’s moronic incompetence plays just as favorably.
Look further than the Butcher brothers, and you’ll find one-note, forgettable supporting roles. Gabourey Sidibe’s bit-part can be excused as a token heavyset woman for Nobby to “confuse” as strikingly beautiful, but Rebel Wilson is a disappointing non-factor minus one dirty-talking exchange. At least she’s not Penélope Cruz, who registers on an even lesser-note as a famous philanthropist. Or Isla Fisher, the MI6 tech correspondent who only exists so Strong’s character can create sexual tension when receiving objective instructions. All and all, The Brothers Grimsby positions its female roles as second-hand afterthoughts, which highlights what little attention to detail is paid outside of Nobby and Sebastian.
Yet, the film is called The Brothers Grimsby, and by creating a hard-R bastardization of campy 90s action-comedies, Sacha Baron Cohen leaves us scarred, abused and in absolute stitches. It’s nowhere near a perfect film, and some jokes are met with uncomfortable silence, but you will laugh, and pretty damn hard at times. Despite being a Most Wanted target for the PC Police, The Brothers Grimsby will beat you into submission with a slimy avalanche of “NO HE DIDN’T” jokesmanship, until we’re all blue in the face, cleaning animal semen out of crevasses we didn’t even know we had.
Which, admittedly, is way more fun than it sounds.
The Brothers Grimsby is offensive, disgusting, ridiculous and as much as I feel dirty admitting it, it's also pretty damn funny.