THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY * * 1 / 2
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher and Penelope Cruz. Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston and Peter Baynham. Directed by Louis Leterrier.
The late Robert Warshow wrote, “A man goes to the movies. The critic must be brave enough to admit he is that man.” And so when a man goes to the movies and sees two brothers stuck inside of an elephant’s vagina, bruised and battered by the pachyderm’s partner’s penis before being sprayed with gallons upon gallons of elephant jizz, the critic must be brave enough to admit he is that man who laughed. Oh, did I laugh. God help me, I laughed like a mental patient.
(But it probably should be mentioned for the sake of context that if we must rank such things, this gag in The Brothers Grimsby does fall a mite short of the towering, epochal elephant ejaculation in Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered. That one nearly killed a former roommate of mine when he fell off the couch gasping for air and rolled around on the old living room floor for awhile. I can still see our respective girlfriends standing in the doorway, watching us watch the movie and lamenting aloud that these were indeed the men they slept with, which as I recall didn’t continue for too much longer after that in either of our cases, for reasons that may or may not have had anything to do with me buying Freddy Got Fingered on DVD. But I digress.)
The Brothers Grimsby is such a ramshackle affair that to call it slapdash would be a compliment. The film gives every appearance of having been inelegantly buzz-sawed down from something much longer and coherent into a semi-nonsensical eighty-three minute barrage of jokes that alternate between tasteless and appalling. Too recognizable now to get away with the guerrilla theatre antics of his Ali G and Borat days, Sacha Baron Cohen still seems to be trying to find another outlet for his anarchic energy. Like his previous film, The Dictator, The Brothers Grimsby has a needle of socio-political satire buried in a haystack of scatological outrages and strenuous vulgarity. Unlike The Dictator, it’s pretty fucking funny.
Mark Strong stars as Sebastian Butcher, Britain’s most dashing and deadly secret agent, who’s attempting to foil an assassination plot at a World Health Organization gala benefit when he’s interrupted by his long-estranged, soccer hooligan brother Nobby. Played by Baron Cohen with mutton-chop sideburns and a prosthetic beer gut that he only seems to be wearing about half the time, Nobby is an endearing, alcoholic lout, cheerfully scamming the welfare office with his eleven children and grandchildren. One of them he calls Luke, because they shave his head and collect extra benefit checks by pretending the kid has leukemia. Another he named Django Unchained.
So naturally Nobby botches his kid brother’s mission and the mismatched siblings end up on the lam after accidentally causing Daniel Radcliffe to contract HIV. (Long story.) The movie drunkenly stumbles from one gross-out set piece to another, the majority of them involving the murder of innocents, child endangerment, anal penetration and/or testicular distress. They discover a plot by an Angelina Jolie-ish superstar goodwill ambassador (gamely played by Penelope Cruz) to poison all the poor people in the world, and to stop her the boys need help from the unemployed drunks and layabouts in their hometown of Grimsby. So it’s class warfare, kind of. Truth be told, the movie doesn’t seem to have sorted out exactly what it wants to say about poverty save for saying it loudly and with a lot of four-letter words.
Yet still, I laughed like a drain. Isla Fisher and Ian McShane are sadly wasted as the Moneypenny and M to Strong’s 007, but boy howdy does Rebel Wilson give it her all as Nobby’s better half. She and Baron Cohen launch into semi-pornographic public displays of affection that would be terribly uncomfortable to watch if the characters didn’t seem so convincingly crazy about each other. I’m almost afraid to admit I found them adorable, even with the farting. (“Don’t worry,” she smiles lasciviously, “that one didn’t come out of me bum.”)
By now you should probably have a pretty good idea if The Brothers Grimsby is your kind of thing, and if isn’t then I cannot possibly imagine a more unpleasant moviegoing experience for you. As for the critic, I can only be slightly ashamed for making such a spectacle of myself at a film in which the everybody-lived-happily-ever-after ending involves Donald Trump getting AIDS.