It seems one should know what to expect when sitting down to watch The Brothers Grimsby knowing very well this is a movie starring famed provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen. Through personas like Borat, Bruno, and Ali G, Cohen has repeatedly crossed the line, often hilariously so, in his socially explorative and outrageous mockumentaries. However, Cohen’s brand of comedic social anarchy doesn’t bode well in this much more straightforward comedy/action film.
The film opens with the first half of formerly inseparable brothers: Nobby (Cohen), an unsuccessful parent to a litter of children, who has grown up in the socioeconomic dearth of Grimsby, England, and like most Brits, he’s a vociferous England National fan. Despite his humble life, which includes activities like testing the sexual capabilities of a mattress or spending entirely too much time at the local pub, Nobby harbors an emptiness inside as he continues to pine – even after 28 years – for the return of his beloved brother Sebastian (Mark Strong).
Sebastian, meanwhile, has become a globetrotting secret agent, composed and proficient, and we join him on an exciting mission. Nevertheless, Nobby gets news that Sebastian will be a guest at an illustrious fundraiser, helmed by humanitarian Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz). Sebastian is actually there to prevent George’s assassination with intel he gathered at the end of his opening introduction.
Things go awry when, as Sebastian aims to destroy the faux-video camera that is supposed to assassinate George, bumbling Nobby surprises him with a hug. Believing to be the work of Sebastian (gone rogue) he’s now on the lamb to clear his name and find those responsible, along with some heavy baggage to shoulder: Nobby.
This is the perfect opportunity for long lost brothers to reunite and bond, however things are not entirely peachy for Sebastian, who holds a bit of resentment towards Nobby – as flashbacks will show. The two brothers get into a series of outlandish, over-the-top, and increasingly lewd hijinks, with some of the colorful incidents involving Nobby sucking venom out of Sebastian’s testicle and an array of foreign objects in the rectum.
Once in awhile, I find these tasteless comedies amusing, but it often feels like Cohen is trying to outdo himself on a continuous basis in a movie that plays like a series of stunts aimed at disgusting the audience. The peak of these acts involve hiding inside an elephant’s womb – yes, an elephant’s womb. The joke couldn’t possibly end there as that would be entirely too tame for Cohen’s sensibilities. To describe the incident would require censorship and a specific vernacular that I couldn’t possibly emulate on a family-friendly website. Needless to say, the scene involves a male elephant. Use your imagination.
I’m actually a bit shocked how committed Mark Strong is to his role (especially in the scene mentioned above) and why he agreed to degrade himself with utter cool and calm – stoicism even. On the other hand, Sacha Baron Cohen is glad to be back home in his element, torturing the unsuspecting with dirty humor involving genitalia.
The Brothers Grimsby is less a film and more a platform for the cataloging of lewd and indecent acts that will have audiences cringing with disgust – and occasional amusement. What distinguishes Grimsby from Cohen’s other works is that he tries entirely too hard to cross the line with his newest foray in off-color comedy. That’s not to say there aren’t funny moments – there’s a few – but most of the humor is outdone by the writing team’s (Cohen, Phil Johnston, and Peter Baynham) propensity to add one too-many layers to their gags, causing them to collapse under their own obscene weight.