“The Brothers Grimsby” ended up being one of those movies that I did not like nearly as much as I wanted to like it going in. Sacha Baron Cohen is a comedy force unto himself, and he has a specific style of using idiocy to make some great points, to use jocularity to approach difficult subjects, but unfortunately there does seem to be something in the way of diminishing returns when it comes to his movies. And at the most recent and lowest end of this spectrum is his latest, an action comedy which would have fit right in with 2015’s glut of spy-related movies.
Cohen is Nobby Butcher, a welfare cheat and soccer hooligan living with nine children and his girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) in the small town of Grimsby, where he was born and raised. For 28 years, Nobby has been separated from his younger brother Sebastian due to the foster care system, but Nobby becomes reunited with his brother (Mark Strong), who now happens to be one of MI6’s top secret agents. Nobby immediately and predictably screws things up for Sebastian, and the two of them have to go on the run from MI6 in order to clear their names and also to save the world or something. You know, generic spy movie stuff.
So this is two movies in one – there’s the comedy about two brothers who were separated at youth and get back together only to find how different they are from each other, and then there’s an action movie about some Russian bad guy (Scott Adkins) who is working for someone else in order to do something nefarious. And the problem is, at under ninety minutes (including credits), neither of these movies is developed enough, and the film as a whole suffers. That short run time also makes me think that a good amount of the movie got cut out at some point, and while this was surely done to make it better, it does seem they may have gone too far.
The action movie part of “The Brothers Grimsby” has very little in it that makes it stand out from the pack. The point of hiring a director like Louis Leterrier is because you need the guy who directed “The Transporter” and “Unleashed” to bring the crazy action movie chops, but outside of one first-person action sequence at the top, there is nothing else that stands out. And this portion of the story is so rote as to be laughable. The villains and the “evil scheme” or whatever you want to call it are as boring and forgettable as can be, total placeholders, just an excuse to put together the comedy portion of this movie, the only reason it has to exist, which is this whole story about the brothers.
But even then, this story is as boring as possible! The brothers are separated when they are kids in foster care, and again they just lifted this out of a thousand other stories and used it wholesale and earnestly. And then within the first seven, maybe ten minutes of the movie, Nobby is told by some random guy that they found Sebastian and they tell Nobby where to go to find him. It just seems so weirdly lazy to make one of this character’s main traits be his pining for his brother, and yet we don’t see him do a thing in looking for him, and then he’s just told by some Rando where he can find him all of a sudden. If it is such a big part of the character, why can’t we actually see him doing some searching, maybe even find him through his own intuition. It kind of seems like the joke of this movie is that Nobby, a slovenly working-class bloke from a dirty town, can be just as important and effective for the British government as the suave super agent that Sebastian portrays. And this would have been a good opportunity to show that this Nobby fella could actually have some latent investigative skills. But nope. That would take work. Let’s just have a fat guy walk in from the left of the screen and say “we found your brother!”
And a big part of Sebastian’s character is that he has resentment for what he perceived to be his big brother abandoning him all those years ago, and this movie does that totally awesome thing in which characters withhold information from each other until very late in the film just so that they can have some manufactured tension between them, despite the fact that simply talking to each other would clear things up easily (which they did, eventually). Also their back story is told in pieces and interspersed throughout the movie, to no dramatic effect whatsoever. If they weren’t going to make this a spy spoof and instead played all of that very straight, then the separated brothers being reunited story should have been excellent, and it simply is not.
So what? How about the jokes? Is the movie funny? This is an action comedy, after all. The success of the jokes and the humor in “The Brothers Grimsby” totally depends on the audience member’s subjective taste when it comes to comedy. Do you like gross out gags? And I mean really gross? Cause this movie is for you if that’s the case. And it is not all gross out humor, there are some other jokes and gags of actual substance, and some of them work and some of them don’t. If the movie was better, maybe the jokes would have been received better? But instead it feels like a slog at an hour and twenty minutes and that is not a good sign for a movie, action, comedy or otherwise.
I would like to point out also that this movie is called “Grimsby” elsewhere in the world, and some marketing asshole somewhere thought American audiences wouldn’t see a movie named for a small town in England so they changed the name to “The Brothers Grimsby,” despite the fact that the brothers share the last name Butcher, not Grimsby. They even call themselves “The Butcher Brothers of Grimsby” several times, which means the title of this movie is incorrect, and frankly, quite lazy. And to whomever thought changing the title to this would help it’s box office chances…there’s some bad news.