Freud would’ve had a field day with The Brothers Grimsby, the latest comic creation from professional prankster Sacha Baron Cohen. The fitfully funny, consistently disgusting new comedy would’ve provided rock-solid support for the noted psychoanalyst’s theory of five-stage psychosexual development, particularly the anal stage, wherein dysfunction could leave the child with personality defects later down the line. This is where the expression ‘anal-retentive’ comes from, referring to personalities fixated on order, authority, tidiness, and punctuality. On the flip side of this concept is the less-discussed anal-expulsive personality, characterized by disorganization, rebellion, and overall messiness — that’s Cohen, up and down. Somewhere between the firework-in-the-ass joke, the elephant phallus-in-the-ass joke, and the larger-firework-in-the-ass joke, Freud would’ve concluded that a cigar is not always just a cigar, and especially not when it’s shoved up a guy’s ass.
Orifices of all shapes and sizes take a serious pummeling in Grimsby‘s impossibly long 83 minutes, but penetrative humor constitutes but one small patch in this elaborate quilt of sophomoric gross-outs. Testicles are diligently suckled, a number-two is described in nauseatingly fine detail, and an ejaculate-facial of unthinkable proportions takes place in full view of director Louis Leterrier’s camera. At least repulsion-palooza Grimsby is consistently creative in the methods through which it alienates its audience, boldly going where few movies have dared to go before (and for good reason). Cohen has always taken pleasure in the base and perverse, but while the antics of Borat, Brüno and Ali G always served to expose the bigotry and hypocrisy resting one layer beneath a polite exterior in ordinary folks, this latest set of provocations has no loftier critical or satirical ambition. A rousing third-act monologue about the value of so-called “scum” in popular society might allow Cohen to believe he’s driving home a more urgent point about classism and discrimination (that, and the whole giving-Donald-Trump-AIDS business), but the remorseless campaign of sheer idiocy that precedes it robs it of its dramatic heft. Before he defends the non-elite, he gets in plenty of good potshots about how they’re all fat, drunk, inbred, welfare-check-cashing, heroin-injecting wastes of space. Cohen hasn’t lost his streak of social consciousness, only the means by which he can express it.
Cohen designs Nobby Butcher, an incorrigible football hooligan and one such fleck of scum, as another perpetually powered generator of ludicrous comic circumstances in the tradition of his earlier personae, the key difference being that Cohen is now holding all the cards. Controlling both sides of the conversation, and accordingly leaving unwitting participants out of it, should ostensibly make Cohen’s humor feel less mean-spirited, but it has the opposite effect. Care has gone into crafting the Nobby Butcher character: his matted hair and greasy sideburns, sweat-stained football polo, extra-long denim shorts and flimsy flip-flops all combine for a picture-perfect look, and yet it feels like Cohen enjoys seeing him suffer.