Grimsby (aka The Brothers Grimsby) movie review: grim indeed

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The Brothers Grimsby red light

A soul-crushing experience: lazy, cheap, lurid, and stupid. Painfully unfunny and pointless. Sacha Baron Cohen now panders to those he once rightly mocked.
I’m “biast” (pro): once loved Sacha Baron Cohen…

I’m “biast” (con): …but he has tried my patience lately

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Ten years ago, in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen held up clueless white-male privilege, racist cruelty, and idiotic sexism (among other petty smallmindednesses) as worthy of ridicule. Seven years ago, in Bruno, he held up straight men’s gay panic (as well as other kneejerk ignorances and superficialities) as deserving of derision. The daring and fearless cultural critic that Baron Cohen was once would be appalled by the crass viciousness of Grimsby. He has made himself the target of his former self with a witless action “comedy” that embraces the lowest forms of cruelty and bigotry, that wallows in anti-intellectualism, that celebrates poor-bashing as great good fun. In my 2009 review of Bruno, I wondered whether the fact that many people seemed to miss the satire of Baron Cohen’s work back then would lead us to ask, “How far should we be expected to dumb down movies?” And now Grimsby has answered that question: all the way down into the sewers.

Grimsby is a soul-crushing experience not only for what it is itself, but for what it represents about the downfall of a comic who previously displayed genuine creative genius: he has become what he once rightly disdained. He now panders to those he once rightly mocked.

Ten-years-ago Baron Cohen would be dismayed at the glee with which today’s Baron Cohen (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Les Misérables) invites us to laugh at his portrayal — as star and cowriter — of Nobby Butcher, who doesn’t work, has nine kids (and two grandkids) with his wife (Rebel Wilson: How to Be Single, Pitch Perfect 2), proudly announces the benefits (aka welfare) scams that bring money into the household, and enjoys shooting fireworks out of his ass down at the pub. Ten-years-ago Baron Cohen might have held up for ridicule the one-percenters who reduced Nobby’s hometown of Grimsby — a working-class city in the north of England — to a postindustrial hellscape (one that the real citizens of the real Grimsby would not actually recognize, I suspect), but here it is only the unemployed poor who come in for abuse: they drink too much, have too many kids, and are generally disgusting slobs living the high life on the government teat. (Here’s another movie, along with London Has Fallen, that Donald Trump voters will love.)

But even after holding up Nobby as a happy yet revolting moron, Grimsby expects us to feel something akin to tenderness for him when he finally finds his long-lost brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Before I Go to Sleep), who was adopted away separately when they were orphaned as children. Sebastian is now a top agent with MI-6 — smart, sleek, supremely competent, the precise opposite of Nobby — but we cannot feel much kindness or generosity toward him either: even after Nobby has ruined one of Sebastian’s ops, injured the agent, further endangered the agent’s cover and life, and has even done some idiotic things that threaten world peace and stability, Sebastian still has not run away in the opposite direction.

Any attempt on the movie’s part to create authentic brotherly feeling between the men is missing. In its place, we have a thoroughly fatuous spy sendup as Nobby tags along on Sebastian’s mission to stop a fiendish plot to kill millions. And that is subsumed to endlessly drawn-out scenes of penis panic — a new subset of gay panic that Baron Cohen appears to have newly invented — that are designed to engage the viewer’s presumed revulsion rather than pity (as ten-years-ago Baron Cohen would have done). Grimsby presumes that the viewer will agree that fat women — not just Wilson but, in a truly vile sequence, Gabourey Sidibe (Seven Psychopaths, Tower Heist) as a hotel maid — are gross, and the fact that Nobby finds them sexy is hilarious. On the other hand, Grimsby presumes that we will agree with Nobby that discovering that one of your pop-culture heroes is gay is the same as discovering that one of them is a rapist. And after all of this, we will be invited to consider that the very people that the movie has been offering up to us as poor, dumb, and good for absolutely nothing are in fact the essential foundations of society. We do not buy it, not even a little bit. The movie itself doesn’t even seem to buy it.

Grimsby is lazy, cheap, lurid, and stupid. It is painfully unfunny and, worst of all, pointless. It is so short — well under 90 minutes — and feels so endless. I don’t know how Sacha Baron Cohen found himself in this place: there may be a tragically sad story in that. But there can be no excuse for this movie.

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Sat, Mar 05, 2016 7:16am

Damn. I could tell from the trailer that this wasn’t a movie I’d like, but it’s depressing to find out that it’s that bad. I liked Sacha Baron Cohen too.

Maria Niku
Maria Niku
Sat, Mar 05, 2016 1:32pm

This is really and truly depressing to hear. I was a fan.

Sun, Mar 13, 2016 8:40pm

Isn’t he starting to get a bit long in the tooth for these types of movie roles?

reply to  rick
Sun, Mar 13, 2016 9:40pm

Only women get long in the tooth. Men get by on a special set of skills.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  rick
Wed, Mar 16, 2016 8:31pm

Who he? And what about either of these roles is about youth?

Leon Thehitman
Leon Thehitman
Tue, Oct 25, 2016 6:03pm

I really enjoy MaryAnn Johanson’s reviews, I read her first, but on this occasion she is profoundly wrong. I guess its easier to understand if you are British. Every day our popular newspapers are full of racist, anti-poor, anti working class stories. Drip, drip drip day after day. If you took every ridiculous myth and lie perpetrated by the papers and put them all together you would end up with ‘Grimsby’. By themselves, each drip drip drip is barely, but still plausible. Put together as in the movie, they are plainly and stupidly lies. That’s the beauty of the movie, it makes ridiculous what we in Britain are subjected to every day. You aren’t meant to believe any of it is serious or in any way true, its just having fun at a set of values which originated from the billionaire publishers who in spewing out their bile attempt to convince people to cut and freeze benefits, penalize the disabled and the unemployed. That the working class are inherently lazy and dishonest.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Leon Thehitman
Wed, Oct 26, 2016 11:46am

I may be American, but I’ve been living in London for years now. I’m well aware of how the poor are abused and denigrated by the right-wing press.

Put together as in the movie, they are plainly and stupidly lies.

In what way does the movie portray its depiction of its characters as “plainly and stupidly lies”?

its just having fun at a set of values which originated from the billionaire publishers

No, it’s not. This movie is precisely the opposite of how you make fun of those values.

Mon, Sep 12, 2022 3:27pm

Just logged in to say you don’t have a clue what humour is or how it’s being portrayed. Grimsby is literally one of the best films ever and if you think that’s rather sad, then I would reciprocate that to you. Have you honestly forgotten what raw fun is? Are you British? I fear both of them are a NO. It’s designed to push social boundaries of humour and go past the last guy who cracked a decent joke (like Mike Myers did with Austin Powers and mini me). How did you miss the mark that hard?