If you’re like me and have an aversion to embarrassing discomfort, then you probably also like your Sacha Baron Cohen in small doses. He’s sharp when playing supporting roles (see Sweeney Todd or Talladega Nights) – his manic energy gives a film just the right amount of kick and kink, but let him loose and it’s almost too much of a good thing. Grimsby is one case of Baron Cohen gone amok, and rather than highly concentrated funny, he tries out every profane gag he can think of. Shock and awe is the strategy, which works with a satire like Borat, but this film veers into Brüno territory. A lazy and base faux comedy spy thriller, it mildly seeks to say something about the jobbing working class, as if true heroism was sticking a virus-infected firework up your bum and keeping the Fast and Furious franchise afloat.
Nobby, a Liam Gallagher lookalike from Grimsby, is played with unrestrained glee by Baron Cohen, who also co-wrote and produced, ensuring that he gets to indulge in every crass stereotype for the sake of comedy. A neighborhood favorite who can be counted on for a good time at the pub and who is also loving family man to his devoted wife (Rebel Wilson) and football team of children, Nobby has it all. Except for his little brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong being very Mark Strong-like), from whom he was separated twenty-eight years ago by adoption. When word gets back of Sebastian’s whereabouts, Nobby rushes off to see him.
A few decades and an upper-class childhood in London can do a lot for a hometown kid, and Sebastian is now a world apart from the big brother he once idolized. An elite member of MI6 whose main responsibilities include shooting and punching people, his current mission is to prevent the assassination of a philanthropist (Penélope Cruz) and world health leader. Nobby’s over-exuberance at the reunion causes Sebastian to kill the wrong person, and to infect Daniel Radcliffe with HIV. He’s forced to go rogue, all whilst trying to prove his innocence, uncover a conspiracy, and shake off his brother.
Grimsby rushes along at a brisk 83 minutes, popping off crude jokes like a desperate high school show off. There’s a teabagging scene, a timely jab at Cosby, and a bit about poop. But most people will remember this movie for the elephant sex. It’s not a one and done gag either but an extended sequence that probably comes with a director’s cut. If the film was not so eager to gross out and push boundaries, it might have been a decent action comedy. Isla Fisher, who plays Sebastian’s capable contact at headquarters, could use a meatier role, but the misfits appeal of the two brothers does make for good entertainment. Strong is delightfully game when parodying his hard man persona and keeps an iron face throughout. Shame it’s wasted on raunch.
Alt Title: The Brothers Grimsby
Prod: Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Ant Hines, Nira Park, Todd Schulman
Dir: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Gabourey Sidibe, Annabelle Wallis, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Yusuf Hofri, Barkhad Abdi
Time: 83 min
Country: United Kingdom