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2015 was the year of the spy movie – giving us entries in franchises like Mission: Impossible and James Bond, comedic approaches with Melissa McCarthey’s Spy and Oscar contenders like Bridge of Spies. Now Sacha Baron Cohen has a crack with The Brothers Grimsby (or simply Grimsby in the UK) as two very different brothers have to work together to stop a dastardly terrorist plot.
Nobby Butcher (Cohen) is a your stereotypical feckless benefit scrounger – having nine kids and spends all his time at the local pub drinking, watching football (soccer to Americans) and shoving fireworks up his arse. But he pines for his younger brother – who he has been separated from for 28 years. His brother, Sebastian Graves (Mark Strong), has grown up to be a top secret agent for a black ops wing within MI6. While on a mission, Sebastian is reunited with his long lost brother, but also framed for the assassination of a major public figure. Sebastian has to go into hiding with Nobby, while also setting out to clear his name.
The Brothers Grimsby goes for a very controversial style of comedy – being deliberately crass and offensive. To put it into context, one of the big gags in the movie is Nobby having to suck poison from his brother’s personal area. On an intelligential level, there was one sequence I should have been offended by, but admittedly, I laughed like a jackal during it. An early joke in the movie was a baby watching South Park and it is clear that South Park and Family Guy‘s brand of humor was an influence on this film. The risk of this type of humor is crossing the line of being too offensive/grotesque – and The Brothers Grimsby does that consistently; the worst offender being the elephant gangbang which starts off disgusting and gets even worse. Cohen has made a career on provocation and the people of Grimsby will be reaching pitchforks and torches to lynch him.
Mark Strong is a very talented actor, often known for playing villains, he is in great physical shape for his age and easily handles the action scenes. He is allowed to let out his inner James Bond as he issues one-liners and flirts with beautiful ladies. Yet with The Brothers Grimsby, it looks like Cohen and the director are looking to take away his dignity and his badass credentials. It would be entertaining to find out what Strong thought as he read the screenplay. Strong is the straight man and has to react to Cohen’s antics, which jeopardize his work. Strong shows he has ability with comedy, delivering some witty lines and Cohen was able to play off his younger on-screen brother. Weirdly, Strong is eight year’s Cohen’s senior yet he is cast as the younger brother.
The Brothers Grimsby also cast comedians like Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson in supporting roles – men who play up a working class culture of drinking, football supporting and despite not being in peak physical fitness go around in vests or topless. Their roles were minor and their casting was a reference to their previous roles. Rebel Wilson and Gabourey Sidibe were two big name members of the cast, but the jokes around them deals exclusively with their weight and Nobby is sexually attracted to them because of it.
The Brothers Grimsby was directed by Louis Leterrier who has predominately worked within the action genre and the movie does satisfy when the set-pieces are on screen. The early scene is a highlight because most of the action is shot with a PoV style, giving these scenes a video game look. But The Brothers Grimsby is mainly a comedy with some action bits rather than being a full on action-comedy. At a running time of 83 minutes The Brothers Grimsby is very short for a modern movie, even for a comedy and like many R-rated comedies it would be expected that there would be an ‘unrated’ Blu-ray version.
The Brothers Grimsby is vaguely comparable to last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service – having a man from a rough, rundown area of England taken into the world of international espionage. The villain’s plan in The Brother Grimsby with its basic outcome is similar to Richmond Valentine’s in “Kingsman”. But “Kingsman” is a more funny and action-packed movie. The Brothers Grimsby is also like Spy in the sense it is a movie that turns a James Bond like action thriller into a low-brow comedy.
Though The Brothers Grimsby is a comedy from the Cohen stable, there are a few genuinely emotional moments. One of the big moments is a flashback to Nobby as he comforts his younger brother after a tragic event while also showing the upbringing they had.
There are been some critics in the UK who have given The Brothers Grimsby very negative reviews because of the portrayal of the Benefits Streets/Channel 5 type figures, taking the stereotypes to the extreme of cheating the welfare system, anti-social behavior, smoking, being overweight and unfit plus having tons of kids and treating the police with contempt. Comedy is subjective and it is easy to understand why some people may not like this brand of humor. But Cohen is known for being subversive – in “Borat” he made anti-Semitic jokes yet, Cohen is Jewish and as Borat, he gave a speech which had the line, ‘May George Bush a-drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq’ to a cheering rodeo crowd; so it’s safe to say The Brothers Grimsby does not reflect Cohen’s real views.
The movie makes fun of a certain presidential candidate, which was clearly a last minute change with some poor CGI to be to make the movie topical and give him a horror fate. While the man in question may be considered by many people a horrible, odious figure, the joke is cheap and should have been cut – particularly the amount of comedy gold he gives in real life.
The Brothers Grimsby is an action-comedy for people who have a high tolerance for gross out humor (and even then it would be pushed to the limit) and not for people who are easily offended. Yet I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to laughing my ass off at some points in the movie.