Whether it be Ali G, Borat or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s movies are defined by their characters.
The main character of “The Brothers Grimsby,” a 2016 film directed by Louis Leterrier, is Nobby, played by Cohen, a potbellied, working-class buffoon who lives the poor Englishman’s dream with his nine rowdy kids, with names such as Skeletor, Django Unchained and Stella Artois, and his lovely wife.
Nobby is disgusting, rowdy and irresponsible yet loving and good intentioned. He might be “low class,” but he is very human. The idea of this character had the potential to be great, but the film does not take sufficient satirical risks as Cohen’s other films did.
The story of “The Brothers Grimsby” is based off the premise “what if James Bond had a sloppy idiot for a brother?” Nobby and his brother Sebastian, played by Mark Strong, were separated during childhood and adopted by different families. Sebastian went on to become a spy for MI6 while Nobby went on to start a family in the rundown town of Grimsby, a real place in England.
Ever since their separation 28 years ago, Nobby has been searching for his younger brother. So when he gets a tip that Sebastian is going to be at a posh gala, he is ecstatic, and heads there straight away. Unbeknownst to Nobby, Sebastian is at this gala on a mission.
Nobby, upon spotting his brother, ruins the mission by causing Sebastian to miss his target and instead shoot an AIDS-infected Israeli-Palestinian child in a wheelchair. Now Sebastian is on the run from the authorities and needs the help of his long-lost brother.
One reason the film falters is that it doesn’t give enough screen time to its hilarious female characters, all of whom could have easily improved the film with their own comedic talents instead of being used as props. Actresses like Rebel Wilson, who played the part of Nobby’s loving wife perfectly, and Gabourey Sidibe, who is part of a decently funny mix-up scene, were both given shamefully small amounts of screen time and character development.
The storyline relies too heavily on the corny action/thriller scenes rather than showing the high-low culture clash between the brothers. We are briefly shown a quasi-touching moment when Sebastian meets Nobby’s family, but we are quickly whisked away to a garbage spy movie. The overly sentimental background story of the brothers’ separation did not do the film justice. This part of the film is shown through sappy flashbacks that are much more off-putting than the lengthy elephant ejaculation scene.
It’s obvious that this film is not up to par with Cohen’s other films, such as “Borat” and “Bruno.” In these other films, Cohen has had to put his life on the line. Watching him duck and dodge white supremacists, homophobes and racists while, in the process, exposing their bigotry, made for a far more entertaining insight into human nature.
This film doesn’t play with those kinds of stakes or have the satirical bite that made his earlier films so amazing. Here, Cohen’s imagination is given the creative means to run free, but the result is formless and soft.
“The Brothers Grimsby” remains mediocre. The humor in this film is off and on, but if you love gross-out, edgy humor then you will like this one. What “The Brothers Grimsby” lacks is a decent storyline and satirical angle.
The plot is a sloppy mash up of a predictable spy thriller and a raunchy comedy. If you are willing to wade through the lesser parts, you might be able to get a couple hearty laughs.
Hopefully Cohen will reclaim his place as the king of satirical comedy in his next film. Until then, when going to see “The Brothers Grimsby” audiences will most likely laugh, wince and roll their eyes.