The Brothers Grimsby is a middle of the road action/comedy where Sacha Baron Cohen’s R-Rated comedy brand offers diminishing returns.
Sacha Baron Cohen headlines The Brothers Grimsby as Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a resident of the poor English fishing town of Grimsby – where he lives with his numerous children and his girlfriend Dawn Grobham (Rebel Wilson) – and a football super-fan, who has spent nearly thirty years searching in vain for his younger brother after the pair were separated at a young age. It turns out that Nobby’s sibling is Sebastian Butcher (Mark Strong), one of MI6’s top agents – something that Nobby is completely oblivious to, when he sets out to be reunited with his brother at last after learning of his current location from a friend. Nobby in turn inadvertently interrupts Sebastian while he’s undercover, sabotaging his mission and forcing them to go on the run together when Sebastian is wrongly accused of an assassination attempt against the philanthropic celebrity, Rhonda George (Penélope Cruz).
Sebastian thereafter discovers that the attempt on Rhonda George’s life is part of a much larger conspiracy – one that may threaten the very safety of the world. On the run and with his back against the wall, Sebastian slowly realizes that his dim-witted brother is his only hope at proving his innocence and saving the day… assuming that Nobby’s stupidity doesn’t get the both of them killed first, anyway.
The latest movie co-written by and starring Sacha Baron Cohen, The Brothers Grimsby embraces what has become Cohen’s recognizable “brand” of comedy over the past decade (since Borat was released in theaters) – combining it with the action filmmaking sensibilities of director Louis Leterrier, of The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, and Now You See Me fame. The Brothers Grimsby, in turn, enhances Cohen’s new R-Rated offering with greater energy, visual inventiveness, and general narrative momentum than his more recent films have possessed (see: The Dictator). Problem is, Cohen’s stagnant comedic style itself is the main culprit that’s responsible for holding the action/comedy back from flying higher.
Brothers Grimsby, which Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids, Wreck-It Ralph) co-wrote with Cohen and the latter’s frequent collaborator Peter Baynham, resembles Cohen’s previous movies in that it uses “inappropriate” and “non-PC” satirical humor as a means of providing larger social commentary. There are certainly gross-out jokes and raunchy gags that hit their mark here, but there are an equal number (if not more) that miss their mark and come off as strained attempts to shock or “offend” moviegoers – including, a handful of comedic sequences that play out as more over the top variations on the best raunchy punchlines and physical comedy bits featured in Cohen’s previous movies (Borat in particular), but mostly offer a reminder that “bigger” isn’t necessarily better, instead. Similarly, Cohen’s use of R-Rated humor to serve a greater satirical purpose isn’t as well-handled or effective in Brothers Grimsby as it has been in his past movies.
Leterrier’s direction, as mentioned before, helps to offset the stagnancy of Cohen’s comedy in The Brothers Grimsby, with assistance from his cinematographer here, Oliver Wood (of the original Bourne Identity movie trilogy). In addition to maintaining a brisk, if occasionally choppy, pace throughout the movie’s brisk running time, Leterrier and his various collaborators construct a handful of visually intriguing action sequences that are filmed in the “first person POV” style (a technique that next month’s Hardcore Henry will test the limits of) and tend to avoid lingering on any one joke (be it a hit or miss) for too long. The narrative in Brothers Grimsby, like those in Cohen and Leterrier’s previous films alike, is of secondary concern, but Leterrier and his editing team succeed well enough in framing the film’s central narrative thread with flashbacks that flesh out Nobby and Sebastian’s backstory. At the same time, the film provides a (fittingly raunchy) payoff to the main characters’ plot thread and their evolving relationship, too.
Cohen, as he has in the past, plays more of a caricature than proper character in The Brothers Grimsby – in this case, a working-class Englishman who, like Borat and Brüno (among others) before him, is cheerfully oblivious whenever his language and/or behavior is frowned upon by those around him. Nobby isn’t as memorable or effective a caricature as Cohen’s previous creations, but Mark Strong is a worthy straight man for Cohen to bounce his shenanigans off. Strong, as he has demonstrated in the past (see Kingsman: The Secret Service for one recent example), has a strong sense of comedic timing and carefully handles his role as Sebastian completely po-faced, no matter what ridiculous situation he and Cohen find themselves in. Cohen’s real-life wife Isla Fisher has the most screen time after Cohen and Strong – as Sebastian’s MI6 handler Jodie Figgs – but despite being a romantic interest to Strong, Fisher very much plays second fiddle here behind the film’s leads.
The supporting cast featured in The Brothers Grimsby gets by and large pushed to the side to make room for Cohen and Strong’s antics together, but certain cast members get a moment or two to shine. Both Penélope Cruz (as celebrity Rhonda George) and Ian McShane (as Strong’s MI6 superior) are given little to do here other than move the plot along, while Pitch Perfect‘s Rebel Wilson (as Cohen’s equally inappropriately-behaved girlfriend) serves up the type of humor that most moviegoers have come to expect from her – for better or worse. On the other hand, the brief appearances by such folk as Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Binders), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Barked Abdi (Captain Phillips), and Scott Adkins (The Expendables 2) leave a stronger impression… some for the better than others, admittedly.
The Brothers Grimsby is a middle of the road action/comedy where Sacha Baron Cohen’s R-Rated comedy brand offers diminishing returns. Director Louis Leterrier helps to liven the proceedings through certain stylistic flourishes and editing choices that keep the film sprinting towards the finish line throughout, but those elements can only do so much to compensate for how often Cohen and his collaborators’ R-Rated shenanigans here come off as concerted efforts to top jokes and gags that were done better (or, at the least, were fresher) in their previous films. Moviegoers who have a soft spot for Cohen’s brand of gleefully mean-spirited comedy and (ironic) bad-taste humor should get additional mileage out of The Brothers Grimsby, but any other interested parties might be better off waiting to watch this “Borat meets Jason Bourne” action/comedy at home.
The Brothers Grimsby is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 83 minutes long and is Rated R for strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language, and some drug use.
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