The Brothers Grimsby
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Opens March 11
Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy—naughty hijinks flavored with Sellers-ian versatility and thinly glazed social satire—gains its energy from two groups. First, those vexed saps duped by Cohen’s infamously ignorant aliases—the anti-Semitic newscaster Borat, “b-boy wannabe” Ali G, and flamboyantly gay fashionista Bruno—into thinking they’re not in a mock-doc. Then there’s the offscreen audience, simultaneously awed and repelled by the gleeful filth on-screen, while inquisitive of what unseen shit went down. Did Borat’s singing of a fake, uber-nationalist Kazakhstan anthem to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner” end bloodily? Or what of Bruno sucking man-face at a hetero-manic UFC match? Offscreen space orbits Cohen’s once-salient jackassery, peaking, when he was still slightly obscure, with Borat. Double-edged stardom and visibility wounded the subsequent Bruno, the last to uphold the mock-doc schtick. The Dictator and now The Brothers Grimsby embrace the fictional narrative that derailed Ali G Indahouse, manufacturing the situations and forfeiting the unsuspecting victims while still managing to surprise. But instead of Andy Kaufman, we get Ace Ventura.
Mirroring the South Park clip featured within, The Brothers Grimsby stubbornly boasts Cohen’s playground yuks in a thinkpiece-ready age. Dicks, homoeroticism, AIDS, pedophilia, buttstuff, bodily fluids of many colors—expect it all. Cohen’s creations are distinguished a lonesome yearning for inclusion, plopping onto where they’re uninvited and finding rejection. Instead of manipulating situations, director Louis Letterier, most comfortable with blockbuster action, manipulates genres here. Essentially a punched-up, thrifted spy plot, Grimsby fizzles quickly. Ill-inspired Nobby (Cohen) is a lager-gut-sporting hooligan in pursuit of estranged kid brother Agent Sebastian Butcher (Mark Strong), who’s suspected of betraying MI6 (headed by Ian McShane, among the many underused talents) after Nobby botches an assassination; on the run they go, occasionally abandoning the plot for some sibling bonding, which includes an elephant gangbang and some, uh, poison sucking. Were they not knowingly imbued with a buddy-movie mushiness, the gags would strictly be dare-ya comedy. But that’s about as inventive as the spoofing gets; the homoerotic undertones of male camaraderie and body-centric inequality—spies are sexy, comics are not—are barely brushed upon.
Hurting Grimsby most is its misuse of Rebel Wilson, Isla Fischer, Penelope Cruz, Barkhad Abdi, and Gabourey Sibide in broad bit parts that strictly connect one segment to another. What hasn’t improved about Cohen’s comedy is his inability to make tableau-building supercede anthology, most notably when a classist plot by Cruz’s baddie enters too late. Still, I’d be hard pressed to find another irreverent action movie where a butthole-fixated climax is merely a setup to Donald Trump getting AIDS.