The Brothers Grimsby Is Almost as Funny as It Is Filthy, Which Is Saying Something

The Brothers Grimsby is a movie for those who thought Kingsman: The Secret Service didn’t go far enough. If all the exploding heads and anal-sex jokes and creative impalements of Matthew Vaughn’s tongue-in-cheek spy thriller didn’t do it for you, rest assured: This time, we get to see British super-agent Mark Strong and his Midlands yob brother Sacha Baron Cohen evade the bad guys by hiding inside an elephant’s vagina. Our heroes then find themselves trapped in that cavity as another elephant wanders up and engages in some hanky-panky. That, mind you, is the setup to the joke; the full gag is far more elaborate and gross.

Anyway, this is now a movie that exists, so … yay?

Baron Cohen made his fame toying with the boundaries of documentary and fiction as the British faux-hop TV personality Ali G and the fake Kazakh journalist Borat. In both cases, the actor’s elaborately outré characters interacted with real people, with often hilarious results. There’s less performance art this time around: Grimsby doesn’t have a nonfiction bone in its body. But it still pushes at boundaries, and the first one, as you might have noticed, is that of good taste. There’s a subtler transgression here as well: Despite the baroque grotesquerie of the comedy, the film is also at times a reasonably committed action movie, like James Bond got hijacked by the world’s most gutter-minded juvenile delinquent.

The director here is Louis Leterrier, best known for directing Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk and the first two installments of the gonzo Jason Statham franchise The Transporter, and he understands the silly fun to be had from a fast, over-the-top, well-shot action scene. One of the earliest sequences in Grimsby features an extended p.o.v. shot, courtesy of a fancy camera placed inside a contact lens, as MI6 agent Sebastian Butcher (Strong) ziplines into a crowd, blows people away, jumps off bridges and chases down motorcycles in an effort to capture his target. The sheer goofiness of the wide-angle lens, mixed with the absurd speed of the sequence, makes for thrilling, breakneck slapstick. Most outright comedies nowadays aren’t this well put-together.

We soon learn that Sebastian was separated years ago from his brother Norman, a/k/a Nobby (Baron Cohen), who still lives in their old run-down working-class neighborhood in Grimsby, in central England. Living off welfare (he’s got nine to 11 kids — the number keeps changing), he spends most of his time watching soccer, downing pints and having filthy sex with his deliriously kinky mate Dawn (Rebel Wilson). Nobby has been pining all these years to find his missing brother, and when a neighbor spots undercover super-spy Sebastian at a fancy fundraiser, the “Butcher Boys of Grimsby” are reunited. Alas, Nobby’s meddling at the event also causes his brother to shoot the wrong person, resulting in Sebastian becoming a marked man and needing to lay low. Where better to head than the cluttered, disgusting home of his dimwitted brother, about whom no one at headquarters knows? But soon enough, the duo are hopping continents in pursuit of an arms dealer with a deadly virus that could wipe out a large swath of the human race.

Most of the gags involve Nobby having to take Sebastian’s place in some elaborate scheme and then screwing everything up — usually involving a bodily orifice or an exchange of fluids. But Leterrier, ever the workman, gives even the dumbest bits a kind of action-movie confidence, and the slickness sells the silliness. He films a guy sitting his naked bum on a pathogen-loaded rocket with the same derring-do that he gives an action sequence involving a guy hanging from the bottom of a truck. And when a spray of AIDS-infected blood flies into Donald Trump’s mouth (oh, I should mention: This is a movie in which Donald Trump gets AIDS), it does so Michael Bay–style, in zooming slow motion.

This brand of shock-humor is not for everyone. The film doesn’t quite have the social conscience of Borat, which sought to highlight American provincialism and narrow-mindedness as its outrageous foreign journalist traveled the country asking all the wrong questions. This time, there are some feints made toward the exploitation of the working class. (“It’s us scum who die in the wars started by the bastards in charge!” Nobby yells. “It’s us scum who keep the Fast & Furious franchise alive!”) But those are the least provocative moments. Mostly, The Brothers Grimsby simply wants to make you laugh. And it will. Whether you’re laughing because the jokes are actually funny or because you can’t quite believe that you just saw what you did … well, that’s between you and your god. 

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