Overview: Nobby, a rowdy fisherman, finally reconnects with his estranged brother Sebastian only to discover that Sebastian is a spy entangled in a deadly plot. Columbia Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 83 minutes.
Sacha Baron Cohen By The Script: Following the precedent set by his last foray into the realm of the scripted studio comedy feature, mockumentarian and provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest sees the man who brought such wilder-than-life characters as Borat and Bruno on a smaller scale, with the comedian in question playing things by the script. With near-consistent collaborator Larry Charles out of the picture, frequent action movie director Louis Leterrier takes over in the making of what is without a doubt the most crass and sophomoric spy movie since Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond. There is little that can be said about the film’s specific scenes and sequences of outlandish humor without committing the sin of explicitly detailing the film’s beats, but suffice it to say that there is more than enough of Cohen’s gross-out brand humor to please the most die hard fans of the actor’s 2006 blockbuster hit Borat.
Gleefully Tasteless: A lot of the specific jokes and set devices that are utilized throughout Cohen’s latest piece of satiric debauchery can be taken in the wrong light easily, and perhaps not without at least a little bit of moral justification. The homophobia that proliferates throughout the film’s repeated allusion to exaggerated acts of male-to-male physical intimacy, not to mention its derogatory caricature of the denizens of its titular geographic location in the larger United Kingdom, makes The Brothers Grimsby something of a hard pill to swallow. But much of what Cohen has done so well over the course of his career on television and film has been in presenting a certain gleeful tastelessness that is meant to illicit a reaction from his audience that almost demands to be misconstrued and underappreciated before the true intent of its message can be understood, glib pageantry not withstanding.
Uneasy Transition: After the mixed reception received by The Dictator in 2012, Cohen’s latest scripted comedy comes at a period of uneasy transition for the former pop-cultural giant. Whereas Borat and Bruno were viral sensations who continue to proliferate around the world, characters like Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen in the former film and “Nobby” Butcher in The Brothers Grimsby are stunted by an audience seemingly more ill at ease with Cohen’s decided desire to unsettle and disarm his viewers’ more staid sensibilities. On Cohen’s seminal satirical talk show Da Ali G Show, more people were willing to indulge what was an outwardly misinformed and grotesque affair, and allowed the characters that populated their television screen to begin to talk through the comedy towards larger social ills via caricature and potentially damaging cultural representations. While the politically correct demagoguery will likely continue to lambast Cohen for making an unfeeling and regressive comedy of egregious and sneering apathy, there is still plenty to laugh about in spite of any perceived misdoings behind the scenes.
Overall: The Brothers Grimsby is not Cohen’s greatest work, but in its willingness to continue to indulge its star in his continued affinity for a certain irreverent joie de vivre, Leterrier manages to direct a parody of the action-thriller spy genre film that is equally hilarious and stomach churning, for better and for worse.