The Brothers Grimsby Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Penélope Cruz. Directed by Louis Leterrier. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
The Brothers Grimsby’s absurdity begins with its title, which clearly suggests a movie about brothers named Grimsby. In fact, Grimsby is the name of the shabby English seaport town where brothers Nobby and Sebastian Butcher were born, by which logic the Bee Gees should be known as the Bee Cees (for Chorlton, the Manchester suburb where the brothers Gibb grew up).
That confusion aside, the movie’s plot is fairly basic: Despite being devoted to each other as children, Nobby and Sebastian wind up separated for most of their lives after their parents are killed and only Sebastian gets adopted by a rich family. Decades later, Sebastian (Mark Strong) has become a top government assassin, while Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen, who also co-wrote the screenplay) lives in squalor with his wife (Rebel Wilson) and what looks like roughly a dozen hyperactive children. When Nobby finds his long-lost brother, he inadvertently causes Sebastian to shoot the wrong target, resulting in various joint adventures as the coarse Butcher boy (remember, their name is Butcher, not Grimsby) tags along after the suave one.
For most viewers, Baron Cohen will be the primary draw here, but Nobby isn’t nearly as memorable a cretin as Borat or Ali G or even Brüno. Grimsby also pushes the actor’s obsession with repulsive humor a bit too far, devoting several lengthy scenes to genitalia-related gags—one bit involving an elephant threatens to turn into a multi-species variation on The Human Centipede, played openly for laughs. (There’s also a very mean-spirited Donald Trump joke that’s now accidentally timelier than Baron Cohen could possibly have guessed when he wrote it, assuming he was responsible.)
The perpetually underrated Strong, however, makes an ideal exasperated straight man—the Abbott to Baron Cohen’s Costello—and director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, the first two Transporterfilms) succeeds in making the espionage material play like a bona fide action flick, which only heightens the comedy embedded within. As deliberately stupid gross-out yuk-fests go, The Brothers Grimsby won’t make anyone forget There’s Something About Mary, but it has some of the old Farrelly brothers spirit. Sorry, I mean the Cumberland brothers.