The Brothers Grimsby (2016) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language, and some drug use
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Rebel Wilson, Scott Adkins, Gabourey Sidibe, Barkhad Abdi
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham
Review published March 12, 2016
Sacha Baron Cohen (Les Miserables, The Dictator) continues his formula of crass, envelope-pushing comedies with The Brothers Grimsby (aka Grimsby outside of the US). The formula consists of trying to elicit laughs through sheer outrageousness, absurdity, and lots and lots of gross sexual and scatological humor. This time out, Cohen, who also serves as a producer and co-screenwriter, brings in an action director, Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, The Incredible Hulk), to punch up the visual style of the non-comedic moments.
Cohen stars as Norman 'Nobby' Butcher, who lives with his lusty wife Dawn (Wilson, How to Be Single) and eleven hooligan children (two of whom are his grandchildren) in the working-class town of the film's title in northern England. Despite the large family, deadbeat welfare-scammer Nobby still yearns for one more person in his life, his younger brother Sebastian, who he was separated from as a young boy when they were left as orphans and adopted into different circumstances. After learning of the whereabouts of Sebastian (Strong, Before I Go to Sleep), who is now a slick and debonair secret agent working for MI6, Nobby meets and tries to reassert long-dormant bonds, but Sebastian wants none of it at this point in his life, having felt abandoned way back when. During a particularly tense moment at a public function that draws out Sebastian into full super-spy mode to avert an assassination, Nobby ends up bungling the heroics and makes Sebastian look like the culprit, causing the latter to have to hide out from his own spy organization. Sebastian tries to regain separation, but Nobby is all he has in this world to help him, especially as he learns of nefarious plans being hatched from an international terrorist organization that could put the world in mortal peril.
At this point in his film career, you know what you're going to get from Sacha Baron Cohen, who has milked being rude and crude for laughs throughout his starring projects. It's his shtick, and he's too far invested to back out now and risk abandoning his sizeable fan base. Classist stereotypes will abound, especially about lower-class residents of Grimsby and other such communities, though many of those jokes will be lost among those who don't live in England, who will likely find them to be endearing rather than offensive. It's a bit lessened in impact by the existence of a similar British-based film that tap-danced on crude and offensive notes, Kingsman: The Secret Service, which also features Mark Strong, and featured nearly identical thematic material in its plotline of the rich wanting to eliminate the poor, so, while there will be things in the crasser moments you've never seen before in a film, the rest of it -- the story and plot elements -- will seem too familiar to care about. Your opinion of The Brothers Grimsby will likely be solely determined by, purely and simply, how often it makes you laugh.
The Brothers Grimsby is the kind of movie that couldn't work if everyone on board isn't willing to go all in on the jokes. While we know there's no place too sacred or sensitive for Sacha Baron Cohen to go to get a laugh, no matter how cheap or juvenile, as he is a comedian who revels on pushing buttons clearly marked by society as "DO NOT TOUCH". However, it's Mark Strong, as the straight man, that seems to be having most fun in the role, liberated nearly completely from having to take anything seriously. While Robert De Niro's Dirty Grandpa had been an embarrassing mark on a distinguished career that one would hope he never repeats, Mark Strong shows how wide his range truly is, willing to put everything on the line to sell the joke, no matter how deviant or demented. It's a casting choice that works, even though, in real life, Strong is actually eight years older than Cohen, despite playing his younger brother in the film.
When you're dealing with broad physical comedy that relies on gross-out moments for most of its belly-laughs, to say that your mileage will vary is pretty much a given for The Brothers Grimsby. For every person in the audience that laughs heartily at such puerile comedic set pieces that involve bathroom functions, seminal fluids, and jokes about AIDS and leukemia, there's going to be another person who is either sickened or offended by these moments enough to stop watching altogether. I feel the need to stress in this review that if you're offended by bad-taste humor of the most extreme variety, don't, under any circumstances, see The Brothers Grimsby, because it does not "play nice" in this regard. Also, if you're the sort of person who wonders if your children can handle it, I'd also want to caution against this too. Oh, I'm sure they will find it funny, because kids often find fart and sex jokes hilarious, but really, this one may make for some uncomfortable moments for you if they deem to repeat what they've seen in front of their teacher in school.
The Brothers Grimsby is the kind of movie I should hate, and, in a certain respect, wish that I do. It would be so much easier for me, a film critic, to just pass off as nauseating, infantile swill and just move on. But, try as I might to be above it all, and as uneasy as I found much of the subject matter that Cohen and company decided to build jokes around, I can't say I didn't laugh, and laugh heartily, at some of the worst of it. I actively tried not to laugh at certain moments where it was being deliberately offensive, and it still got to me. So, I apologize now to any who have taken in this film without reading this review first because they just saw my three-star recommendation and headed to the theater straight on that, and then were appalled. I guess it's for movies like The Brothers Grimsby that film critics write extensive reviews rather than just rate movies on a scale. Every film has its audience, and, in the end, I realize that I'm actually part of the audience who finds vulgar comedies full of offensive assertions funny from time to time, despite my conscience about it both as a film critic and as a human being.
So, while teenage boys will likely be sold on the film, as well as those adults who laugh any time someone has to simulate a perverse sex act or stick something up their bums, take this review with a grain of salt and determine on your own whether you find this level of humor funny. If you do, you'll likely find enough moments here to feel like you got your money's worth of laughter. If not, it's going to seem like the longest 82 minutes of your life, if you make it that far. You've been warned.
-- There is an extra scene in the early credits as well as a post-credits scene.
©2016 Vince Leo