"The Brothers Grimsby" stinks of desperation for comedic force of nature Sacha Baron Cohen, and the strained effort doesn't pay off.
Cohen, who unleashed his no-holds-barred satirical genius on an unsuspecting world in the form of Ali G, Borat and Bruno, is out to shock and disturb the audience while making them laugh in the action-comedy hybrid he masterminded as co-writer and star. But this one is all reach and no grab. The result is a confounding, rarely funny mess.
Instead of forcing the world to stare uncomfortably at the funhouse mirror image he projects, Cohen cracks the mirror and jabs you with shards of it. The humor in "The Brothers Grimsby" is a different, far more depressing type of vulgarity than Cohen's fans are used to. Instead of brainy social commentary, he sticks with fourth grade level bathroom gags.
This is the type of movie Larry the Cable Guy would crank out if society still allowed him to make movies.
Cohen plays Nobby, a pudgy Cockney who manufactures countless kids with his wife to pump up the welfare checks, allowing him to sit around drinking and watching soccer. He pines to reconnect with his estranged brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), who has become a secret agent. They run into each other by chance, with the bumbling Nobby screwing up one of Sebastian's special ops, forcing him to tag along as both become targets of a global conspiracy.
The high points are the action scenes, thanks to the grit of Strong and influence of "The Transporter" director Louis Leterrier. Cohen is so talented that he has to try extremely hard not to be funny, but try and succeed he does here.
Running gags include celebrity HIV infection due to stray bullets, incest and rampant obesity in the underclass Nobby is a part of. I'm of the mind that no subject should be off limits when it comes to comedy, but Cohen scrapes the razor's edge such a theoretical don't-go-there boundary. Is it possible to make any of this stuff funny? Maybe, but all Cohen proves is that he doesn't know how to get there.
If you are out to offend -- and this movie is gleefully offensive -- it's not necessarily a problem, as long as you do it cleverly and creatively enough to make your audience laugh at you and themselves. "The Brothers Grimsby" doesn't even begin to approach that level of success, instead flailing in desperate attempts to shock for the sake of schlock.
The most alarmingly sad part of the film is a climactic monologue in which Nobby proclaims him and his people scum, and posits that it's scum that makes the world go 'round. He's insulting the blue collar crowd he's appealing to, and is most definitely not a part of and never was. Cohen is still an ultra-rich, impossibly talented elite, no matter how much he tries to dirty himself with gross, pathetic gags. He may not be scum, but he's definitely managed to make some.
RATING: 1.5 STARS OUT OF 4