The Brothers Grimsby
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe, David Harewood, Sam Hazeldine, Johnny Vegas, Lex Shrapnel, Rory Keenan, Lee Nicholas Harris, Eileen Davies, Karol Steele, Bob Cryer, Jorge de Juan, Lasco Atkins. Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham.
The latest feature film to star Sacha Baron Cohen as a perversely exaggerated caricature, The Brothers Grimsby (originally titled ‘Grimsby’ in the UK) has had at least one bit of ingenious marketing.
On the US late show Jimmy Kimmel Live, the star introduced a clip from the film so shocking it couldn’t be shown on TV; instead, viewers saw audience members reacting in disbelief to a scene that seemed to involve elephants, judging by the audio. “That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kimmel says after the clip.
The scene is so shocking, apparently, that distributors have asked reviewers to avoid discussing it. Well, sure. But the film has already been released in the UK, so the cat’s likely out of the bag for anyone intent on knowing what all the buzz is about.
The scene in question isn’t likely to really shock anyone going into a Sacha Baron Cohen movie: it’s so over-the-top that it surpasses any measure of taste, or comedy. It’s one of the most subversive moments I’ve seen in a mainstream comedy since, I don’t know, Freddy Got Fingered? That’s probably not a kind comparison.
But The Brothers Grimsby is fast and loose and funny enough when it wants to be, and that’s often enough to warrant at least a lukewarm recommendation. It might be the star’s least successful vehicle – though Ali G Indahouse, unreleased theatrically in many countries, was no masterpiece – but fans shouldn’t be disappointed.
Cohen is a lot of fun as Carl ‘Nobby’ Butcher, a beer-guzzlin’, fight-startin’, football-lovin’ working-class resident of the titular English town. While raising his own eleven children (and grandchildren), he’s dedicated the past thirty years of his life to finding his long-lost younger brother after the pair were separated in the foster system following the death of their parents.
That brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) is now an MI6 super-soldier tasked with saving the world from an imminent threat. He also just happens to be in Grimsby for his super-secret job, and wouldn’t you know, big brother Nobby finds him just in time screw the mission, make Sebastian a wanted man, and send the duo on an international hunt to prove their innocence and reveal the true threat.
The two leads make for an engaging duo, and are both terrific physical performers. Over the course of the film, their characters get tangled up in so many positions that each actor must have come out of the shoot intimately familiar with the other.
Strong is especially engaging as the Jason Bourne-like secret agent; any arch wink-wink stuff could have sunk the whole endeavour, but the actor plays it completely straight. Baron Cohen ruthlessly lampoons his easy-target hooligan, but also gives him pathos; still, the on-the-nose characterization makes this a less memorable character than Ali G, Borat, Bruno, or even The Dictator.
Supporting characters have considerably less to do. Isla Fisher and Ian McShane bark out orders from an MI6 office as Sebastian’s handlers (think the Brian Cox/Julia Stiles roles from the Bourne films), while Rebel Wilson gets just a couple scenes to strut her filthy stuff. Penelope Cruz is criminally underused (Zoolander 2 gave her much more to do) while Gabourey Sidibe has a single-scene as the butt of a joke.
Working from a formulaic script, director Louis Leterrier (Unleashed, The Transporter, Now You See Me) keeps things flying fast and furious without sacrificing too much of comedy. During action scenes, he makes great use of first-person perspective (Strong’s character wears a contact lens with a camera that allows his handlers to follow him) to convey a sense of kinetic thrills; see also the upcoming Hardcore Harry.
The Brothers Grimsby is just barely sufficient as a feature film, running a mere 75 minutes minus end credits. Not that I’m complaining: had it gone on any longer, it would have risked wearing out its welcome.
It’s sufficiently funny stuff, but it won’t be everyone’s brand of comedy – an ongoing bad-taste gag involving Daniel Radcliffe and culminating with Donald Trump will either get you, or it won’t. And while I didn’t find the elephant seen all that shocking or funny, the thought of the work put into it by the set designers and prop makers gave me a legitimate chuckle.