“Trust you? Trust you? Because of you, the head of the World Health Organisation is dead and Harry Potter has AIDS. You managed to do in three seconds what Voldemort failed to do in eight movies.” – Sebastian Graves, The Brothers Grimsby (2015).
I genuinely forgot I wrote out notes for this review. One of the only reasons I watched this was because my dad wanted to watch a comedy and this was the only thing we could agree on. We were going to watch The Polka King (2018) but Dad was ill so he gets his choice. Ironically I ended up making notes for The Polka King when I was ill. Regardless of what we watched I was going to make notes. Somehow it wound up being Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest (and least talked about) comedy character.
You can probably tell by the above quote what level of humour this film is working at. To say this is a low brow comedy would be false, you’d expect too much. It’s constantly going for gross out humour, and for the most part it does in fact work very well. The straight shooting Mark Strong works impressively well with the awkwardly dumb Sacha Baron Cohen. As far as comedy character development goes, it is what it is. Nothing really in the way of actual development but that should never be the focus of a comedy film.
Basically this film is a mockery of the infamous James Bond series. If anything it’s asking the question “What if Bond had a working class brother?” and to be honest it is quite funny. The premise is unique enough to work and the ever talented Cohen and Strong really stretch themselves to make this work. By the end of this film however it does seem like the material has worn a bit thin. Some of the early stuff is honestly hilarious. There are jokes about everything you could imagine, from Leukemia to Jimmy Saville, they pretty much touch (no pun intended) on everything you could imagine. Your average movie goer may feel a tad offended by some of the content in this film, but for those that like over the line comedy then this may be just for you.
A surprising amount of lines in this film are genuinely quite funny as well. This may have been because of the selection of marvellous British actors representing the many zany characters of Grimsby. Johnny Vegas, Ricky Tomlinson and even a cameo from Ian McShane who you may recognise from John Wick (2014). Along with this is Rebel Wilson, who normally I don’t like, but her supporting role here works fairly well. The cast member that genuinely surprised me is Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz. She gives a pretty decent performance as a villainous global health worker. To be honest that part of the plot is quite fuzzy.
What surprised me the most about this film is not how genuinely funny it was, no, it was the soundtrack. Somehow they managed to acquire the rights of Park Life and use that to introduce a shithole town. Ironically it is in fact quite fitting. Honestly though, aside from that use, there really isn’t anything else recognisable.
The key ingredient to any film doing well is whether or not the main cast members work together well. As far as Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen go, they present a very convincing performance as long lost brothers. Their character arcs are quite traditional but throwing in the football hooligan stuff was a break from that mould. I should indicate at this point that I didn’t actually like the childhood flashbacks. As usual the child actors are dreadful and nothing out of the ordinary garbage we’re used to at this point. It wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t so integral to the film. By the end of the film they’re replicating their pitch invasion childhood, and it just doesn’t work that well.
What’s even better though is that the two are in fact funny on their own. One scene sees Sebastian accidentally take a heroin shot instead of the bone fracture remedy. This leaves it up to Cohen to save the day and infiltrate the hotel, to discover the location of the deadly virus. To do so, he slaps on a suit, makes the antagonist flush a shit down the toilet with a coat hanger and puts on a Sean Connery impression among other things. It’s as if he captures exactly what everyone thinks being James Bond would be like. To give credit where it’s due, that’s exactly what this film does best.
Oddly enough, this film does intend to be an action film as many times as it possibly can. Some of the early scenes with Mark Strong’s spy character Sebastian Graves are genuinely quite good. The set pieces throughout are surprisingly enjoyable and Strong is a convincing lead role. All of this is weighed quite nicely in favour of the comedic portion of the film, with Cohen providing new and inventive ways of making the action funny. The two extremely different stereotypes of these characters and oddly they work rather well together. This chemistry made stuff like the infamous elephant scene genuinely hilarious. Possibly some of the most gross out stuff I have ever had the beauty of seeing.
I feel as if this film was made because Mark Strong enjoyed making Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) so much that he wanted to have a go in the lead role. What happens is genuinely surprising, The Brothers Grimsby is an oddly satisfying and disgustingly hilarious film. There’s a difference between cheap comedy and hilarious comedy, with this film walking the very thin line between the two. Sometimes it’ll go for the cheap gag, but other times it’ll take hilariously unexpected twists that lead to all sorts of comedic bits and pieces.
With Cohen, you’re usually in for a quality film, he more or less guarantees that quality. With The Brothers Grimsby, fans of his work will know exactly what to expect. It’s more in the vein of The Dictator (2012) than Borat (2008). With a script in hand, there are a lot of one liners than I expected. A script is only as good as its cast however, and luckily it seems Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen will do just fine. Before I end this review, I’d like to leave you with a thought. Nobby Butcher (Sacha Baron Cohen) in a suit looks a hell of a lot like Noel Gallagher. The similarities are genuinely scary. A nice Saturday night comedy when you’re three bottles in and can’t be arsed to watch anything too taxing.