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When howls of laughter and shame come together in the same movie

There is a real British seaport town named Grimsby. It’s home to about 90,000 hardy souls devoted mostly to fishing and soccer and, if you believe “The Brothers Grimsby,” welfare cheating and leaving rubbish on the street.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) tells us that, in response, the mayor of the town, quite understandably, produced a promotional film telling the world that “Grimsby was a nice place to live and was not as depicted in [Sacha Baron] Cohen’s movie.”

Which is often hilarious.

Which, in turn, requires three more disclaimers:

Donald Trump had nothing to do with the making of it. Nor did Liam Gallagaher of the rock group Oasis. Both figure in the movie in ways they’d disapprove of heartily. Gallagher, in fact, turned out to be the physical model for the way Cohen looks throughout the movie. Both of those disclaimers actually follow onscreen the end of the movie itself.

One disclaimer that doesn’t is one I offer immediately and is close to standard with Cohen movies: If you have ever been offended by the content of a movie or TV show in your life, you’d be well-advised to stay as far away from “The Brothers Grimsby” as possible. This is for us roughnecks, rowdies and roustabouts in the movie comedy audience.

It is a lot of other things, you see, besides hilarious – crude, irresponsible, outrageous and unforgivable to anyone disinclined to allow comedy to be the anarchic thing it sometimes needs to be.

I laughed my fool head off at “The Brothers Grimsby” but I say that without any pride whatsoever. There you have it. Some of the laughs came with groans attached because there are things in this movie that will be completely unforgivable to any recognizable adult (jokes about a young African AIDS sufferer in a wheelchair, for instance). If you laugh at all at those, it’s the Id inside your sense of humor rejoicing in someone brazenly flouting every possible movie propriety.

The part of us that howls at what goes on sometimes in the film is not the part that obeys traffic laws, packs a nutritious lunch for the kids and tries to call Mom at least once a week.

When laughter comes from the Id, we can’t help ourselves. We never asked to be watching jokes about elephant sperm, clogged toilets and wheelchairs, but there we are, with Cohen going so far over any lines of good taste that they don’t exist.

In the movie, Cohen plays Nobby, the dumbest soccer hooligan in the British Isles who discovers that his long-lost beloved brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) has become a James Bondian secret agent with MI6 and is trying to defend the world from a megavirus that may be unleashed at the World Cup in Chile.

Never mind that as Nobby – as clueless a slob as ever walked the earth – Cohen has given himself a shag hair cut and sideburns to his chin that make him look exactly like Gallagher. And, too, never mind that Trump’s fate at film’s end is about what you’d expect from the screen satirist who once gave us that great newsman from Kazakstan, Borat.

To be blunt, “The Brothers Grimsby” has all the outrageousness of “Borat” and its follow-up “Bruno” but none of the satiric acuity or audacity. The two scenes I found devastating in “Borat: were: 1) Borat’s invitation to an American rodeo audience to join him in anti-Semitism and 2) his return from the bathroom with a plastic bag and questions about where his hostess would like it deposited.

In the case of 1, it’s astounding that Cohen was able to get away from that very real rodeo without the crowd beating him into library paste. In the case of 2, his gross joke on America turned against the joker himself and revealed that in the deepest heart of America lies a real desire to be tolerant and generous to strangers, which is both funny in its lack of sophistication and sweet and even inspiring.

“Bruno” was Cohen’s way of laughing homophobia off the screen – so savage in its way that many gays reacted the way the mayor of Grimsby did.

So it’s like this: Nobby is living with his girlfriend played by Rebel Wilson and 11 children, one of whom has a shaven head so that the welfare department can think he has cancer and send regular checks.

You read that right. It’s one of at least 10 or 15 times when you will groan. Unfortunately, some of those groans are not outgrowths of the laughs preceding them.

Nobby misses his brother Sebastian, from whom he was separated in youth. But Sebastian – now a Superagent – is working on the case of mega-villain Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) and her nefarious plans to decimate the world. It is Nobby, one of the world’s biggest idiots, who accompanies his bro and, as the movie puts it, always makes sure that the world is safe for “scum” like “us.”

This is the next step beyond the great American “slob comedies” of the ’70s (“Animal House” and “Meatballs.”)

I wish I could tell you in some detail how laughs are elicited by elephant sex and a serious hypodermic needle injury in one of the worst places any man would want one, but I’m not even going to try.

The movie is filthy, funny, and at times, deeply regrettable. It is completely irresponsible but for a very simple reason: We sometimes give ourselves permission to guffaw at anarchy and irresponsibility so that the next day we remember that much more acutely that we are indeed members of the human species.

And that we really desperately need to act accordingly.

Which means that we really need to act nothing at all like anyone in “The Brothers Grimsby.”


“The Brothers Grimsby”

3 stars (out of four)

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson and Isla Fisher.

Director: Louis Leterrier

Rated: R for graphic nudity, language, drug use and many crude jokes in atrocious taste.


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