Thursday, March 17, 2016

In Theaters: THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

Directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston and Peter Baynham. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Penelope Cruz, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Gabourey Sidibe, Ian McShane, Barkhad Abdi, Scott Adkins, Tamsin Egerton, Sam Hazeldine, Nick Boraine, Annabelle Wallis, Ricky Tomlinson, David Harewood, Yusuf Hafri. (R, 83 mins)

With his mockumentaries BORAT (2006) and BRUNO (2009), Sacha Baron Cohen displayed a razor sharp wit in his holding up a funhouse mirror to America seen through the eyes of outsiders. He continued in a similar vein with the narrative comedy THE DICTATOR (2012). But with THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY, his latest scripting and starring effort, Baron Cohen pretty much abandons any kind of social/political commentary and goes straight for the grossout/raunch crowd, displaying a positively Sandlerian level of crude laziness with gags that play like he stole them from the dumpster outside the Farrelly Brothers' office. Baron Cohen is too smart to confuse any of this for bold transgression. The sole saving grace is the seething slow burn of veteran character actor Mark Strong, who manages to maintain his dignity to a point--that point being when Baron Cohen's script has him drenched in elephant cum. Twice. In what must set a new standard in damning with faint praise, the best thing one can say about THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is that it's marginally better than DIRTY GRANDPA.

28 years after being left an orphan and separated from his beloved little brother, Nobby (Baron Cohen) is a soccer-obsessed father of 11 (with names like Skeletor, Tsunami, and Gangnam Style) and grandfather of one (Django Unchained), with his nympho wife Dawn (Rebel Wilson) and living in the depressing industrial five-nuclear-reactor town of Grimsby, the "twin city to Chernobyl." He gets word that his little brother will be at a London reception (yes, the establishing shot of London, with the London Eye ferris wheel and the Thames is accompanied by the caption "London, England") to honor young, wheelchair-bound AIDS activist Schlomo Khashidi (Yusuf Hafri), hosted by actress and humanitarian Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz). The long-lost little brother turns out to be Sebastian Graves (Strong), a lethal superspy working for a covert division of MI-6, there to take out international assassin Pavel Lukashenko (Scott Adkins). Nobby surprises Sebastian, who compromises the shot and ends up shooting young Schlomo, whose AIDS-tainted blood lands in the open-sore-filled mouth of celebrity attendee Daniel Radcliffe (played by an impersonator), while Lukashenko's remote controlled gun takes out the head of the World Health Organization. With the mayhem pinned on him and MI-6 deeming him a traitor, Sebastian is forced to go on the run with the hapless Nobby and follow the trail all the way to South Africa and ultimately to the FIFA finals in Chile to find Lukashenko and clear his name.

Along the way, it's endless toilet humor--literally in some cases. Nobby is forced to pretend to be Sebastian after the secret agent accidentally injects himself with heroin Nobby bought from a Cape Town dealer (Barkhad Abdi, obviously unable to parlay that CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Oscar nod into anything resembling a career bump). Nobby is sent to seduce the wife (Annabelle Wallis) of an arms dealer, but confuses her with hotel maid Banu (PRECIOUS' Gabourey Sidibe, in a humiliating role), who's wearing a similar dress, which leads to an extended shot of Baron Cohen with his face buried between Sidibe's ass cheeks, with an insert shot of what's supposed to be the Oscar-nominated actress' extremely unkempt crotch area. Sebastian is shot in the scrotum with a poisoned dart, forcing Nobby to suck the poison out of his brother's ballsack, Baron Cohen wrapping his mouth around Strong's stunt sack as Sebastian teabags Nobby ("You came on my face!" Nobby yells, with Sebastian replying "It was a tiny amount of pre-ejaculate at most. Grow up!"). Horny Dawn goes commando and pulls a BASIC INSTINCT on Nobby, opening her thighs and queefing in his face ("That wasn't me bum!" she says), and then ripping a loud fart ("That was me bum!"). At a health spa, Nobby falls face first into some wax and then lands on a guy's crotch, emerging with a curly goatee except for where the guy's dick entered his mouth. A weakened, AIDS-stricken "Daniel Radcliffe" is later shot at the FIFA finals, with his tainted blood going into the mouth of attendee Donald Trump. But the biggest set piece, and the one where Baron Cohen's career may very well end, has Nobby and Sebastian fleeing psychotic MI-6 mad dog Chilcott (Sam Hazeldine) and hiding inside the spacious confines of a female elephant's vagina. Just as Chilcott and his men leave, Nobby starts crawling out only to be stopped by an aroused male elephant who mounts the female, with Nobby and Sebastian sharing the vagina with a giant elephant cock. "You stroke him and I'll cradle the balls!" Nobby advises, as Sebastian is soon drenched in gallons of elephant jizz. When they try to exit, they're again thwarted by a second male elephant about to have his way with the female, followed by a line of elephants forming for what Nobby deems "an elephant bukkake fuck party." And then Sebastian is covered in elephant cum again, while Nobby is anally violated by another male elephant.

It's worth mentioning that Baron Cohen and co-writer Peter Baynham got Oscar nominations for writing BORAT, and that their other co-writer here (Phil Johnston), co-scripted WRECK-IT-RALPH and the current hit ZOOTOPIA. The director is former Luc Besson protege Louis Leterrier (TRANSPORTER 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK), and the second-unit action duties were handled by JOHN WICK director Chad Stahelski. There is some genuine talent here and the end result is so utterly embarrassing that as the credits rolled, the exiting audience members (both of us) didn't even want to make eye contact. It's lazy, it's beyond juvenile, and it's simply not funny, whether it's the recurrent anal fixation, the pointless AIDS jokes, and consistently unfunny grossout humor at the expense of plus-sized women. "Shock" doesn't necessarily equal "funny," and Baron Cohen is a smart enough writer and performer to know the difference (the only sign of vintage Baron Cohen that shows is when Nobby discovers the rush of firing a weapon, concluding "I can see why people love guns!  It completely distances you from the guilt of your actions!"). THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is a draggy slog even at just 83 minutes, and the fact that there are seven credited editors is indicative of compromised product with which no one really knew what to do (half the shots and lines in the trailer aren't even in the finished movie, and the set-up is so rushed and truncated that it's never really explained how Nobby finds out Sebastian will be in London). Baron Cohen is all about poking people with sticks to get a response, but what exactly was the endgame here? Whatever went wrong, let's just hope that he got it out of his system and can go back to being the bold provocateur he's capable of being, because THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY would be damn near unwatchable were it not for the heroic efforts of Mark Strong.

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