There are graphic and attention-grabbing ways to open this review, by spilling little details from The Brothers Grimsby, but why spoil the fun of Sacha Baron Cohen’s sick humor? How about this: elephants will never look the same to you again.
From Louis Leterrier (aka Renny Harlin-2K) comes the distasteful and delirious action comedy The Brothers Grimsby. And by and large, it’s a howl. One part Bourne saga and another part Call of Duty, Grimsby is a gun-nutty variant on the odd-couple formula set in the exciting worlds of modern international espionage and competitive soccer hooliganism. An odd coupling indeed, but here’s a film where the comedy’s a kick.
Cohen is Nobby. Nobby Grimsby. A not-so-secret soccer fanatic. This isn’t one of Cohen’s fully transformational experiments; Nobby’s a small-town nerd with Gallagher brother hair and uneven mutton chops. He drinks, he’s a fool, and he has a village of children. The man coasts his way through life and gets by on pints and pennies. But perhaps most unexpectedly, Nobby’s not a total knob. He’s embarrassing but endearing, a well-intentioned buffoon.
Nobby openly pines for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). But maybe “Seb” is gone because he’s an offshoot agent of MI-6. Through expedited story-telling, the brothers reunite and all hell breaks loose. There’s hardly anything to the story, with a plot-focusing Macguffin appearing only in the last half hour of the film’s brief 83 minutes. The brothers must unite like Manchester to stop a mass-gassing of soccer fans, which prompts some talk about the world’s “scum” deserving a chance, but Cohen and Leterrier are mostly interested in assembling scenes that at a minimum are often fun, and are sometimes very funny.
Grimsby scores big when it’s at its most vulgar or when it blows up with startlingly racy gags, which is why this movie’s such a poisonous dart to the butt to talk about. But we’re trying. In vague terms, there’s the aforementioned elephant stuff. The plight of the lowest classes. Transmittable diseases. Post-modern video game violence. Cheetahs, chickens, and again, the elephants. The linchpin is Cohen, who has the nerve for this kind of commitment. He has the ability to sell the most brazen ideas, and thus plays De Sade with the soccer crowd.
Granted, that’s the one flaw in his grand design: “shocking” humor. It’s not that The Brothers Grimsby won’t crack ribs. It does. But this kind of extreme silly business comes at a cost: the lack of longevity. The effectiveness and variety of comedy will always lead to debates, but gross-out or extreme humor works great in theaters, which is how the film should be taken in. The film is at its most pleasurable when it’s able to blindside a focused-in audience that came in without major expectations.
Cohen has mastered the art of sneak-attack comedy, even if it’s not totally sustainable. Borat is by-and-large loved, but it’s not generally viewed as an upper-echelon classic because of the novelty wearing off after a first viewing. The film’s naked hotel wrestling was wild in 2006, but ten years later the wit of it all is less fun than the initial thrill of discovery. Still, Grimsby will be a hoot, ideally for unknowing viewers.
Still unsure? Want to prepare? Fine, then how about a bigger tease? Ready? Because the rest of this review is a bacchanal, to say the least:
Grimsby’s got ball-sucking jokes, pube-flashing jokes, ribald jokes about super-sized semen and anal cavities. Jokes that would conceivably kill John Cleese. Maybe even John Waters, for that matter. Nobby discovers the joys of killing to the tune of the Great Escape theme, and becomes the ultimate “kid with a gun.” Strong introduces dangerous entities like heroin and missiles into his body, while whipping other things out. Like his balls. His balls come out. Onto Cohen’s face and lips. And again, seriously, there’s a scene with elephant(s) that comes with such surprise, girth, and dedication that one will be hard-pressed not to laugh loudly, if uncomfortably. Grimsby’s provocative, but not stupid. It knows what kind of humor it wants to achieve, and often scores big.
Offensive or not, there’s a considered, out-there craft with which Cohen processes, writes, and presents his humor. Adidas flip-flops and elephant “trunks” and all.