Monday, March 28, 2016

Movie Monday: The Brothers Grimsby

Rated R (strong sexual content, language, penises, scrotums, anuses).


You remember Sasha Baron Cohen.  He received considerable attention and praise in the early aughts for his "Da Ali G Show" interviews.

Ali G was a fictional character, a doofus who ambushed serious people into filmed interviews in which they struggled to be polite in the face of his idiocy.  Ali G was popular first in England and then in an HBO series in the U.S.

In 2006, Baron Cohen played the title character in "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."  This was a road-show mockumentary in which Borat, another clown character, tours the U.S. doing interviews and making fun of regional Americans, lampooning their perceived sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and jingoism.

(Baron Cohen's work is part of an emerging trend of comedians creating cartoon versions of people they don't like or respect and then playing them as fools.  Think of Stephen Colbert.
        (Or, go back about 80 years and think of white filmmakers' creation of Stepin Fetchit, an offensive stereotype of African Americans played by a black man who at the time was understandably happy for the opportunity to get a well-playing gig.)

This endeared Baron Cohen, an alum of Christ's College, Cambridge, to the intelligentsia.  When he received a British Best Achievement humor award, he reprised his Ali G personality on stage with presenter Sir Ben Kingsley:  "I is grown up now. I ain't living in my nan's house anymore. I is living in her garage."  

So funny.

The Brothers Grimsby

Baron Cohen's earlier fans are disappointed with this movie.  The trenchant commentary they so appreciated in his earlier outings seems to have given way to a hot mess of gross-out gags.

The set-up is this:  Nobby (Baron Cohen) and his brother were separated and adopted by different families; Nobby grows up to be a crude, 11-child-breeding, non-working, benefits-drawing lout in the low-class English town of Grimsby while his posh brother, Sebastian, has become a disciplined MI6 operative.  The two reunite to clear Sebastian's name, and along the way Nobby shows himself to be resourceful and street-smart, not just a common vulgarian.

Sort of a noble savage/action adventure satire aimed at 12-year-old boys.

Manohla Dargis, the New York Times critic known for very long analyses of serious foreign films, could choke out only a few paragraphs for this one.

         A Freudian might be able to make something of Sacha Baron Cohen’s emphasis on
         bodily orifices and protrusions in “The Brothers Grimsby.” I prefer a more obvious
         explanation: At some point during the making of this 1-hour-18-minute burlesque,
         Mr. Cohen became bored. . . .  
                   Mr. Cohen just seems off his game in “Grimsby,” and it may be that the movie’s
         high concept proved too constricting for someone who has done some of his best
         work (as in the “Borat” film) with a looser, more episodic format. He seems boxed in,
         rather than liberated by, the spy movie, which of course is already self-parodying. . . .,

Stephen Twitty of Artisyndicate, who like Dargis has a degree from NYU's film school, had a more straightforward reaction.

        "The Brothers Grimsby" stars Sacha Baron Cohen and a giant elephant penis, and it's
        hard to tell them apart. So remember: One of them actually serves a purpose. It makes
        baby elephants.
                 The other makes piles of dung like this.
                 A cinematic colonoscopy, "The Brothers Grimsby" is a relentlessly scatological
        exercise in idiocy, a walk through the monkey house in which Baron Cohen puts things
        up his bum and throws crud at the screen.

It falls to Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post to observe, finally, that perhaps the emperor has no clothes.

        “The Brothers Grimsby” is fitfully, sometimes outrageously, funny. But Cohen’s shtick
       of showing the backwardness and stupidity of unprivileged characters is starting to feel
       lazy, not to mention classist itself.

The film has not done well, probably because the people who bought tickets were expecting to see art-film Baron Cohen humor and got a cheap-laugh Baron Cohen movie instead.

Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News seems to be able to tell the difference and still appreciate the movie on its own limited terms.

        There’s no real point in reviewing “The Brothers Grimsby.” If you like dumb gross-out
        comedies featuring men fellating each other, double entendres about penises and feces,
        and an obsession with the anus straight out of elementary school, you’ll love Sacha
        Baron Cohen’s latest effort.
                   If you don’t, what, pray tell, is wrong with you?!
                   Full disclosure: I was the lone critic in America to unabashedly recommend
          “Zoolander 2,” so I’m certainly not ashamed to even less abashedly beg you to go
         see “The Brothers Grimsby.”
                  I say that not because it’s a great film — hell, it’s not even a good one — but
         I laughed for pretty much the entire movie, most of the time against my better judgment.

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