Leonardo DiCaprio thinks he’s such an artist for eating raw bison liver in The Revenant. That’s nothing. In Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest, he and co-star Mark Strong play human cock rings to an elephant’s erect dick so they won’t suffocate in its partner’s cavernous uterus.
Take that, DiCaprio.
The Brothers Grimsby has Cohen giving his all (and repeatedly his anus) in the role of working class soccer hooligan Nobby Butcher. Along with his 10 kids and lusty baby mama (Rebel Wilson), Nobby lives a pretty contented life in low-class Grimsby, where soccer is a religion and ordering a salad can get you run out of town. But there’s a brother-filled hole in Nobby’s heart since his childhood estrangement from younger sibling Sebastian (Mark Strong doing his sexy, stern spy thing). When given the chance to reconnect with his MI6 agent brother, Nobby does so with such drunken zeal that he accidentally gets an AIDS-afflicted child gunshot in the shoulder. This forces the brothers off the grid, seeking to clear Sebastian’s name and save the world from an evil plot.
Now as to the film’s plot - it’s best to pay zero attention to it. In an effort to keep the flick fast-paced, Cohen and his co-writers Peter Baynham and Phil Johnston deliver a script that races past plot points, leaving gaping holes wide enough to thrust an elephant dick through. As it’s a spoof of the espionage genre, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) assumes you know these beats, so why belabor them? And that kind of laziness I don’t really mind. It’s really the lazy gags that are galling.
In the past, Cohen has taken on dedicatedly dumb characters to poke fun at popular culture, prejudice, and the megalomania of the powerful. But here his targets are far softer. The Brothers Grimsby indulges in fat jokes, gay panic jokes, and even one Cosby punchline that wrenched only pained groans at my screening. You might cheer briefly to see Academy Award-nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) pop by in a Cape Town sequence. But this joy will sour as you realize he’s been asked to play a slums stereotype whose only punchline is reciting his character’s comically complicated name. Similarly, Rebel Wilson and Gabourey Sidibe appear in disappointing turns. Though both are heralded for their comedy chops and plus-sized glamour, here they are solely the butt of chubby-chasing jokes, because it’s apparently super hilarious that Nobby would want to go down on a fat woman.
Amid scads of dick, pubes, and poop jokes, Cohen also makes a punching bag of the working class, portraying Grimsby as a collection of the worst stereotypes of conservative rhetoric. These “scum” (as the movie repeatedly dubs them) are stupid, lazy, foul-mouthed, violent, and reproducing like rabbits. But in the big finale, Cohen backpedals half-heartedly with a big speech about how it’s this kind of “scum” that built this country, bloody hell! Then this point is hammered home by one last anal penetration joke or three.
It’s not all bad. The gross-outs are hit and miss, operating on a level somewhere between ’90s Jim Carrey and Tom Green. The irreverent humor works best when it’s punching up, like when a ludicrous string of events leads to Donald Trump contracting AIDS. (This caused my theater to explode with cheers and applause.) But the bits that made me laugh the hardest were when Cohen mocked cinema’s sappiest conventions. The conflict of Nobby and Sebastian sings when the former’s earnestness is met with the latter’s disdain. So when a needy Nobby rushes a sneering Sebastian for a hug as a sentimental ballad blares, I burst into giggles. Both times.
Like Zoolander 2, The Brothers Grismby feels like a laffer from another time that hasn’t aged well. (And both star poor Penelope Cruz, who apparently spit in the eye of a vengeful Cinema God.) Because of Borat, Bruno, and The Dictactor, you might expect—as I did—The Brothers Grismby to gleefully blend outlandish and silly humor with sharp satire. But here Cohen is content to hyuck it up with jokes for the lowest common denominator at the expense of the lowest common denominator. And no amount of Trump trouncing can truly redeem it.