Before getting into the merits, or lack thereof, of the film, I want readers to distinctly understand that The Brothers Grimsby does everything it can to shock, offend, outrage, appall and even disgust the viewer. Know this before even considering going into the theater. This is a hard-R affront to the sensibilities. This is a movie that gets a great of mileage out of Sacha Baron Cohen and, especially, Mark Strong being doused in elephant semen while hiding inside a female elephant’s vagina. (Hey, if DiCaprio can get an Oscar for sleeping inside a dead horse …) And, no, this is not suggested, but is presented in startlingly graphic — if obviously faked — detail. Unbelievable as it may be, this is actually worked into the movie’s plot, so it transcends a random gross-out gag. See (or better yet don’t) Rip Torn in Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered (2001) for that. The point here is simply that if a scene like that is going to offend you, do not go to see this movie. There. That’s all you need to know.
Now, assuming you haven’t already decided to give The Brothers Grimsby a very wide berth, I’ll continue. This marks Sacha Baron Cohen’s fourth starring vehicle, and it’s shaping up to be his least successful. The reason why is something that people who dissect such things on the internet are already working on. (Face it, though, his last two movies didn’t get anywhere near the hit status of his first, so this is partially just diminishing returns.) One might note that it’s the first of his movies not directed by Larry Charles, but this film logically needed a director who understands action pictures. While Louis Leterrier may not be an inspired choice, the first two Transporter movies are sufficient cred for the purposes here.
My own take is that The Brothers Grimsby is too much like a “real movie” in terms of having something that actually resembles a plot — and that it’s too British for U.S. consumption. Grimsby, for example, is an apparently low-rent English seaside resort (though I doubt it’s the twin city of Chernobyl as the movie claims) that might ring a bell with American viewers as the title and subject of a song on Elton John’s Caribou album. (It should be noted that the song paints a much nicer picture of the city.) Beyond that, the whole tone of the film is very Britcentric. Imagine if the whole of 2004’s Eurotrip had been about Vinnie Jones and his soccer hooligan pals.
The story itself is a basic spy-spoof that Cohen and company have configured around the star’s latest screen persona, Carl “Nobby” Butcher — a loutish, drunken, drug-infused soccer hooligan with 11 kids (having names like Skeletor and Django Unchained) and a wife (Rebel Wilson). The one thing lacking (he thinks) in his life is younger brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), whom he’s spent 28 years looking for. Finding Sebastian results in discovering that his little brother is a top spy, and then destroying Sebastian’s career and making him a man-on-the-run rogue agent. Much of the plot is interchangeable with … well, the general run of spy movies, but with a terminally idiotic brother (who, of course, ends up partnering with Sebastian) added to the mix. Bear in mind, while I say this is more like a normal movie than its predecessors, that’s a very relative claim, meaning little more than it has a plot. It is unconcerned about this plot in every capacity, apart from giving the movie a shape, however rumpled and badly tailored. The Brothers Grimsby proudly wears its sloppiness like a misspelled badge of honor.
The question — crashingly crude bad taste to one side — is, “is it funny?” and, for the most part, it is. Oh, maybe no more than 75 percent of the jokes hit at all, but it’s so ridiculous, fast, crammed with jokes (mostly tasteless) and ludicrous that I didn’t mind very much. The fact that it only runs 83 minutes is certainly a plus, as is the fact that, every so often, you can’t help but realize this is a stupid movie made by clever people with a little something on their minds. Am I recommending it? Only to people who are pretty hard to offend and who can appreciate gross-out absurdity. So, if you go and you’re offended, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Rated R for strong, crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language and some drug use.