THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY. Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy, at its best, shows distinct signs of genius, ambition, insight, courage and humanity. That said, not every Cohen project reaches those heady heights. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) is of course, an indelible artifact — a hilarious, scathing, frighteningly authentic look at how the sausage of contemporary American culture is made — and arguably the most extreme, most successful outing of Cohen's career. The follow-up, Bruno (2009), pushed the envelope of social commentary even farther, while putting its creator and star in real and immediate physical danger. Ever since, Cohen, perhaps motivated by his family's desire to not see him torn apart by crowds of enraged, drunken bigots, has toned down the gonzo aspects of his movie-making, while still striving for trenchant works of satire. The results are mixed; The Dictator (2012) had its moments, but something vital was lost in the transition from the lean, nimble style of the earlier movies to that one's bloat and polish. It felt compromised, a not entirely successful attempt to subvert convention while bowing to it. The Brothers Grimsby takes a similar risk, being a broad buddy action comedy full of dick jokes and also commentary on the plight of the underclass, but strikes a more satisfying balance.
Sebastian Graves (Mark Strong), one of MI6's most badass operatives, also happens to be the decades-estranged younger brother of one Norman "Nobby" Butcher (Cohen) of Grimsby. Following the death of their parents, the boys were separated. Sebastian was adopted by a cultured, well-to-do couple; Nobby became a ward of the state. The former grew into a sleek, urbane killer and the latter became a big-hearted, drunken football fanatic with 11 kids. When Nobby learns of Sebastian's whereabouts, his attempts at a reunion compound an already volatile international incident and force the brothers into hiding. With the entire British intelligence apparatus bearing down on them, Nobby and Sebastian must unravel the nefarious global plot in which they're embroiled, while attempting to rebuild their sibling relationship.
By enlisting director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, The Transporter), Cohen and his production team ensure that the many action sequences driving Brothers maintain a proper look and feel and pace — to its credit, it plays more like an action movie with frequent comedic moments than a comedy with shoot-outs. Strong's cold-hearted assassin serves as perfect foil to Cohen's lovable cretin, gradually warming to his brother's love. As we've come to expect from Cohen, et al, there are subversive elements at work here, both comically and in terms of cultural criticism. The plot serves to gently — maybe too gently — critique class disparity and the entitlements of the elite from a deeply humanist perspective. It also leaves room for decidedly lower-brow jokes about brother-on-brother "gob rape," pachyderm ejaculate and hideously distended anuses, in case anyone was concerned that it might skew over-serious. And that is a testament to Cohen's creation: The Brothers Grimsby isn't a perfect action movie, or a perfect comedy, in fact some of the humor is pointedly crass and unpleasant. Because there is an undercurrent of humanity, though, sequences that might offend elsewhere get a pass. While they may not be advancing the discourse with the same precision or bravado evinced in Borat and Bruno, these jokes still deliver real satire and real comedy in an ever-rarer balance. R. 83m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. I'm sure in some dim corner of the Internet, a better-versed discussion than I could possibly start is being had regarding the connection of this movie to found-footage monster masher Cloverfield (2007). They are both J.J. Abrams productions, may or may not exist in the same imagined universe, could not be less alike in execution and are both quite enjoyable. That is connection enough for me.
After breaking off her engagement and setting out on her own, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a traumatic car crash. She comes to on a pallet in a basement, injured and chained to the wall. Howard (John Goodman) may be her captor or her savior, depending. He insists that a widespread attack has made the world outside his doomsday shelter uninhabitable and that she would surely have perished without his help. This may be true: Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the only other occupant of the bunker, seems to corroborate his story. Still, Howard seems unbalanced, quick to anger, deeply suspicious, dangerous. There may have been more people alive in the shelter at one time; only Howard would know. And he's the only one with a weapon.
Dan Trachtenberg directs 10 Cloverfield Lane with a sure, steady hand, gradually spooling out the tension and punctuating it deliciously with explosive surprises. It works on a number of levels — as a thriller, a study in paranoia, a monster movie — and is concise, exciting, claustrophobic, well-acted and good-looking. This is an unqualified good time at the movies, compelling and enjoyable from first frame to last and, maybe, an indication of more good things to come in the Abrams/Cloverfield continuity. PG13. 105m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE BRONZE. Comedy with Melissa Rauch as a rough-edged former Olympic gymnast on the skids training a protégé as a way to keep her spot on the C list. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY.
DIVERGENT: ALLEGIANT. There's a wall around Chicago that Trump apparently didn't build and Tris (Shailene Woodley) has to break out of it in this installment of the YA dystopian series. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN. Jennifer Garner stars as a woman on a mission for her ill daughter, whose recovery stumps doctors. PG. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DEADPOOL. A bloody, clever, distinctly adult Marvel vehicle for Ryan Reynolds' weird charisma. A fun break from the steady flow of grim comic adaptations. R. 108m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
EMBRACE THE SERPENT. Drama about a 40-year partnership between scientists and an Amazonian shaman. RICHARDS' GOAT.
THE LADY IN THE VAN. Maggie Smith stars as the eccentric and troubled woman who parked in playwright Alan Bennett's van for 15 years. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY.
LONDON HAS FALLEN. Gerard Butler returns as a Secret Service agent delivering beatings and bullets in defense of the president (Aaron Eckhart) who's pursued by vengeful terrorists in the U.K. in this conspicuously geopolitically clueless sequel. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS: ANIMATED. All the nominees plus a few more. RICHARDS' GOAT.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS: LIVE ACTION. All the nominees. RICHARDS' GOAT.
THE REVENANT. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier survivor Hell-bent on revenge in a gorgeous, punishing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film that offers little beyond beauty and suffering. R. 156m. MILL CREEK.
A WAR. The story of a Danish soldier in Afghanistan at a crossroads. R. 115m. RICHARDS' GOAT.
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Michael Moore gets his passport stamped checking out systems, policies and laws in other countries. R. 83m. BROADWAY.
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. Tina Fey stars in a freewheeling comedy about a war reporter that's compelling, funny and peopled with interesting characters, but misses the chance to take risks and say more. R. 111m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
YOUNG MESSIAH. Jesus' childhood years, in which he kind of looks like a kid at the farmers market. With Sean Bean. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY.
ZOOTOPIA. An animated animal take on the odd-couple buddy movie with Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin and Idris Elba. PG. 108m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill