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Sometimes, even when you know you shouldn’t laugh, the howls still propel out of your body like a locomotive on a train track. You can’t help it. You almost feel guilty for doing so. Yet, a laugh is still a laugh. And even when you know that it’s wrong, it still releases a wave of endorphins that make it feel oh so right.
The Brothers Grimsby is full of these moments. It’s wholeheartedly and proudly stupid, silly, grotesque, outlandish, vulgar, and over-the-top. But for its entire running time, I couldn’t help but perpetually smile. These even turned into full-blown belly laughs on numerous occasions.
Is it pretty? No. In fact, at times, it’s downright revolting. Is it clever? It might actually make you dumber. But that doesn’t matter. The Brothers Grimsby forgoes coherent action and a feasible narrative so that it can get to its gags faster, while there’s always one just seconds away in case its predecessor didn’t land. Its pursuit of creating outrageous mirth even leads Brothers Grimsby to take a 15 minute detour to Africa just so it can make a nauseating elephant joke that words won’t do justice.
As its title suggests, The Brothers Grimsby doesn’t start off in Africa, though. Instead it begins in the northern English town of Grimsby, where Sacha Baron Cohen’s Norman ‘Nobby’ Butcher drinks profusely, reproduces rapidly, and loves to watch England play football (I’m a Brit, I refuse to use the s-word). Nobby’s life has forever been blighted by the fact that he was separated from his younger brother Sebastian when he was a child. Sebastian’s hasn’t, because he has gone on to become the best MI6 agent in history. Upon learning of Sebastian’s whereabouts, Nobby inadvertently causes his long-lost sibling to kill the head of a charity organization, which leads to the pair going on the run together.
For all of its moments of genuine hilarity, The Brothers Grimsby lacks the imagination or dextrous characterization of Cohen's characters Borat, Ali G, or The Dictator’s Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen to match the peak of Sacha Baron Cohen’s career. Instead, it feels more like an elongated sketch. But because of its 83-minute running time, it always remains tolerable.
While the film is undoubtedly funny, The Brothers Grimsby’s plot barely registers and its attempts at action are laughable for all the wrong reasons. Which is surprising considering that it’s directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me) who fails to add any panache to The Brothers Grimsby through its action, which unfolds in a disjointed fashion that actually does more harm than good, as it threatens to take you out of the film.
But The Brothers Grimsby’s leading stars make up for its shortcomings by selling its sentimentality and gross-out humor to the audience perfunctory. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Nobby as dim but sweet, and he never irks despite his brash and loudmouth demeanor, while Mark Strong is the perfect foil, as his irritable demeanor makes his co-star even funnier.
It’s Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen’s dynamic that drives the comedy through its issues. But, despite their best efforts, The Brothers Grimsby will still ultimately be remembered for one or two outlandish hilarious moments rather than as a well-crafted package. It's still more than satisfactory. Just expect to feel very dirty and guilty afterwards.