The Brothers Grimsby and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Louis Leterrier
It has not been a good year for comedies so far, has it? Even if you cut out bottom of the barrel garbage like Dirty Grandpa and Fifty Shades of Black, we’ve got Hail Caesar which was underwhelming (for a Coen Brothers film), Pride Prejudice and Zombies which was one joke told over and over again, and Gods of Egypt which wasn’t even SUPPOSED to be hilarious. What are we left with? Deadpool? Zootopia? We need a REAL comedy that’s all about telling jokes instead of mashing it together with super hero antics or civil rights messages delivered by way of Furries! Good thing Sacha Baron Cohen is still around to show the people what’s what… right? Honestly, I don’t have much hope for this from what I’ve seen in the trailers, but the guy is a damn good comedian and is responsible for some of the most transformative and influential works in that area in the last decade. Can he pull it off at least one more time? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the misadventures of Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sebastian (Mark Strong); two brothers separated during their youth due to their parents dying and subsequently being adopted by different families. Sebastian grows up to be Not James Bond, while Nobby grows up to be a loser, though he seems pretty happy with his life overall; what with having eleven kids (at least) who all seem to love him and Rebel Wilson as his girlfriend who he’s madly in love with. Despite all the riches that life has bestowed upon Nobby though, he still has a hole in himself that Sabastian left when the two were separated. Well the good news is that the movie doesn’t take too long for the two of them to meet back up. The bad news is that, on top of being a loser, Nobby is a blithering idiot and fucks up Sebastian’s mission; causing him to become an internationally wanted man in the process. Now Sebastian has to clear his name, find out what the evil plot the Bad GuysTM are planning, and deal with his dumbass brother in the process. Nobby’s biggest concern on the other hand is to not miss the football game and try to make up for lost time with his brother. Can these two work together to save the world from the Bad GuysTM? Will the twenty eight years of separation prove to be too large a hurdle for them to overcome? Does Sacha Baron Cohen whip his dick out at least once!?
I was seriously dreading this movie from the trailers but in hindsight I shouldn’t have had that low of expectation, considering the talent behind it. The thing is that I really do like Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of offensive comedy. It has a touch of what made John Waters so endearing which is its adoration and appreciation for trash and scum (something they bring to the forefront in this movie) instead of purely relying on ridicule or mean spirited humor. Even Brüno which was all about engaging in over the top and offensive gay stereotypes is a film that works AMAZINGLY well for me because of how well he embodies this character and manages to get some genuine heart in there. So yes. As surprised as I am to say this, The Brothers Grimsbey is a good movie. Not a great movie; in fact on the Sacha Baron Cohen scale it falls below Borat and Brüno (slightly above The Dictator). Still, it’s Sacha Baron Cohen doing whatever it takes to drag a laugh out of you, and for the most part it succeeds.
The gimmick of the movie is the blending of the two genres, in this case a standard James Bond knock off crossed with… what can only be described as a stretched out Monty Python bit that’s not quite as clever. Seriously, everything involving Sacha Baron Cohen and his family was right out of that one sketch in The Meaning of Life about every sperm being sacred (jizz by the way being quite prevalent in this movie). Neither one of these premises are fleshed out enough to carry a feature, especially the spy sections which are low rent even for a straight to DVD knockoff. It tries much more than I expected it to in certain areas, but the plot is overly simplistic and riddled with so many clichés that you can tell exactly where the story is headed right from the beginning. In terms of character, Mark Strong as a spy also has very little defining characteristics to make him engaging as a person instead of just your typical hard ass growly guy but then Sacha Baron Cohen actually works as a character that had the potential to carry his own indie comedy or something like that. He’s an interesting mix of a lovable yokel, and a straight up parasitic scumbag who has no sense of self control or decency while still being endlessly kind and loving. Still, the premise on his part is just a bit too broad; what with the absurd number of children with dumb names (their youngest is called Django Unchained) and his girlfriend played by Rebel Wilson who is seriously underused here.
And yet, despite each half not having much in terms of character and plot, the combining of these two genres actually works in the movies favor. The best parts of this are when the two stumble aimlessly in the other’s world; Mark Strong getting stymied at every turn by the inconsiderate nature of his brother and family, and Sacha Baron Cohen failing upward through the world of international espionage. It’s pretty old hat shtick considering we’re just riffing on North by Northwest again (combined with an Odd Couple knock off) but the strength of this movie comes in its execution and Sacha Baron Cohen’s commitment to go wherever he needs to for the sake of humor. There are some moments where the movie takes the time to establish their relationship to each other, and while I wish these scenes weren’t almost exclusively relegated to the flashbacks (how they tragically were split up), I appreciate the effort made as it does endear us to the characters a bit. It’s a movie that doesn’t NEED to make sense to be funny (the world is firmly established to be exaggerated) but it helps that there’s SOMETHING there to let us know why Mark Strong doesn’t just incapacitate Sacha Baron Cohen from the outset and lets him tag along on this adventure.
Now there are some problems with this movie that even I as a Sacha Baron Cohen apologist can’t ignore. The offensive humor for me worked more than it didn’t (though don’t discount anyone else who had problems with humor here) but the gay joke involving Sasha Baron Cohen having to suck the venom out of Mark Strong’s testicle is just unfunny. It’s a joke we’ve seen countless times (*cough* Your Highness *cough*) and the only spin that they can bring is just how far they push it, to the point that Mark Strong’s (obviously prosthetic) nut sack is in full view as he starts tea bagging Sacha Baron Cohen over and over again which I can’t imagine is helping him get the venom out. I will say that the joke comes to a logical conclusion that I honestly don’t think any other movie doing this joke had the balls to take it (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) but the solid ending doesn’t justify the four minutes of bland and childish humor we had to sit through to get there. Also, it’s a shame that Gabourey Sidibe is so wasted her as she’s only around for the one joke. The joke COULD have worked if they have expanded on it and done more with her character, but the fact that she’s used as merely a punchline makes the joke offensive. I don’t have a problem with her being an unexpected Bond Girl of sorts; I have a problem that they bothered hiring her to be a prop.
Lastly, there’s been a lot of buzz about the movie having a scene where Donald Trump gets AIDS. Yes, stigma surrounding those with AIDS and are HIV positive is a problem, and to use it as a punch line is trivializing a serious issue. In this instance though, I found it funny mostly because of the absurdity of trying so hard to shoehorn a topical subject into a movie this boorish, and the pretty awful effects used to get Donald Trump into the movie. I don’t THINK it falls under ableism, though it certainly would be under some sort of –ism, which there are very few of that we should be engaging in. Still, I think the joke worked here and that Trump is a big enough target that any shade it throws on those who have AIDS is minimized by that. Again, that’s just my opinion and I’m sure other people are going to be legitimately upset by the joke. Like I said, some of the over the top and offensive humor did work for me and I think it works best when it’s at its most… fun? This is where we get into the comparisons with John Waters’s who is the undisputed master of making dirty and offensive jokes from the point of view of those on the receiving end of it. Like Waters, Sacha Baron Cohen revels and finds joy in the depravity and grotesque nature of the world that he creates (“we scum are the ones who built this world!”) and it works for me. Not only that, but he’s WILDLY creative with some of the ideas here, particularly one involving an elephant’s vagina and gallons upon gallons of sperm. This movie has EVEN MORE elephant sperm than Freddy Got Fingered; a movie I also like, so take that for what you will. The level of gleeful tastelessness on display coupled with the creativity that Sacha Baron Cohen brings to its execution kept me going throughout the film even when its plot wasn’t doing much for me (which was most of the time). On top of everything else, the cinematography is solid which isn’t surprising with Louis Leterrier at the helm who also directed The Incredible Hulk and Now You See Me. That said, the gimmick they use to cover up the relatively low budget (for an action movie) isn’t done as well as it should have been. I’m glad they at least tried to stretch their budgets by using a First Person View for some of the bigger set pieces, but it’s riddled with quick cuts and disorienting movement that takes away a lot of the impact. With a bit more polish this could have been a good action film on top of being a funny comedy, though what we ended up getting is good enough to keep those sequences from looking overly cheap.
Offensive humor by its definition requires that we are laughing at something that would offend other people. It’s a powerful tool when used correctly (taking shots at the establishment and the oppressors) but too often it’s been used to be mean and derogatory for no reason (*cough* Dirty Grandpa *cough*). This movie does indulge in the latter, but I think there’s enough of the former to make it an enjoyable film for those who may be the target of the worst jokes or those who are empathetic towards them; more than you can say for something like London Has Fallen which is offensive by design instead of as a tool for satire. If you know you’re not a fan of Sacha Barron Cohen’s brand of excess then you’re not going to find much to enjoy here, but I think it’s a sold comedy from a guy who still has a lot of good will with me and is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for something that’s ACTUALLY funny instead of the dreck we’ve been getting recently.
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