'The Brothers Grimsby': Audiences Indifferent Despite Donald Trump AIDS, Elephant-Sex Gags
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest comedy fails to cause major offense and earns his lowest-ever box-office bow in the U.K.
Despite a final scene in which Donald Trump is accidentally infected with AIDS (from a character purported to be Daniel Radcliffe), Sacha Baron Cohen's latest film has failed to copy its predecessors in igniting major offense or, at least, major box-office glory.
The Brothers Grimsby, which was released in the U.K. last week as Grimsby, landed in the comic's homeland in second place behind Deadpool with $2.7 million, the star's lowest-ever British debut (his last comparable film, The Dictator, earned $6.9 million, while Borat amassed some $11.9 million).
In other European territories where the film opened, The Brothers Grimsby faced similarly tough competition from Marvel's raunchy action comedy and, in some countries, Dirty Grandpa, which targeted a similar demographic. In Israel, it debuted in second place with a first-weekend gross of $156,000. In the Netherlands, it opened to $254,000, which was only good enough for the ninth spot over a strong weekend.
Reviews of the film — in which Baron Cohen stars as a loutish soccer hooligan called Nobby who must join his superspy brother, played by Mark Strong, on a farcical, penis-joke-laden mission to save the world — have been mixed. The Hollywood Reporter said it was "no Borat," while The Guardian suggested that the actor's character-comedy success was "coming to an end" and that he should "take another direction." Perhaps the most stinging response came from the Leicester Mercury, which said, "The privately schooled, Oxbridge-educated multimillionaire Sacha Baron Cohen invites us to laugh at his latest creation: a bloke with no job and 11 kids."
But while box-office results have so far been less than stellar for The Brothers Grimsby, which launches in the U.S. on March 11, the film also differs markedly from Baron Cohen's previous titles — most notably Borat, Bruno and even The Dictator — in the lack of offense it has caused, despite the Trump AIDS scene and another one, in which Nobby and his brother hide inside an elephant's uterus (with gross-out consequences).
When the film was in production in late 2014, much of the focus was on the very real town of Grimsby in Northern England, with leaked set images depicting it as a semiderelict cesspool full of overweight alcoholics, soccer thugs and chain-smoking mothers. While the scenes actually were shot in a port town in the south of the U.K., there were complaints that Baron Cohen was attacking Grimsby needlessly and painting a place that has struggled with unemployment in a rather unfavorable and out-of-date light.
Like Borat with Kazakhstan and Bruno with the LGBT community and at least one Palestinian, it appeared that Baron Cohen was, once again, going to cause some considerable headline-generating discussion (the town of Staines that was featured in his Ali G TV series and film officially changed its name to Staines-Upon-Thames to boost its image). But with The Brothers Grimsby now released in the U.K., most Grimsby residents have shrugged off any potential offense.
Speaking to The Guardian, one citizen said that it was "just a piece of entertainment" and that, while there were people like Nobby in Grimsby, they were also "in every other town and city," adding that he felt it was "heartwarming," rather than snobby. Another said it was "too daft" to attack the town. "It mocks everything. It mocks Grimsby, it mocks working-class people, it mocks the establishment," he said.
With a population of 88,000, Grimsby itself, it should be noted, doesn't actually have a movie theater of its own, so anyone wanting to watch the film has to travel to the nine-screen Parkway Cinema in the adjoining town of Cleethorpes.
How The Brothers Grimsby goes down in the U.S., where knowledge of Grimsby is likely to be limited, remains to be seen. While it's not likely to spark debate by poking fun at any particular groups or communities, the response from one Donald Trump over his unfortunate appearance in the final scene — as well as Baron Cohen's comments at the U.S. premiere — could offer the film a handy publicity boost.