Monday Morning Critic – The Brothers Grimsby and the Tom Greening of Sacha Baron Cohen

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The Brothers Grimsby is the early leader in the clubhouse for biggest flop of 2016, a reported budget of $35 million and a disastrous opening weekend that yielded less than 10% of that. Even with the most generous multiplier to try and figure out a cumulative box office domestically will top off at $15 million, tops. That’s less than half what Cohen grossed opening weekend with Bruno and Borat while being the rough total amount for The Dictator domestically. Grimsby making its money back will be difficult and incredibly reliant on box office grosses, which describes a lot of films these days.

It’s an indicator of a lot of things but the big one to me is simple: Sacha Baron Cohen’s time as the edgiest, line pushing comedic actor out there is over. He has nothing left … and audiences are about at that same point. He’s in the same spot as Tom Green was when Freddy Got Fingered came out: there’s nothing new, shocking or even funny at this point left in the onetime Borat star’s arsenal.

It’s been a decade since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit theatres and was a nuclear bomb at the box office. The film succeeded in part because it wasn’t anything that had been seen en masse before. It was a breath of fresh air and the film had more to it than just Cohen’s antics. There was something provocative about it because Borat was an innocent character. There was an innocence to his antics that made people open up with stuff that they normally wouldn’t.

There was a gleeful aspect to Borat that felt like genuine comedic inspiration. It wasn’t about making fun of anyone for the sake of; it was an exploration of what people would do with a little nudging but wasn’t meant to deliberately offend the audience. It was a hidden camera type of experience in that it was shocking to see what would happen when an idiot gets people to let their guard down just enough to let the truth out.

The problem is that since then Cohen has gone from this sort of comedy by naivete to something meaner. It’s the difference between a simple prank where you throw flour in someone’s face to doing something drastically cruel to a handicapped child and then mocking them on a YouTube channel. Cohen’s elevation into the upper tiers of comedy has done the same thing to him as it did to Tom Green. It’s robbed him of that thing that made him fresh in the first place.

Cohen has lost the nuance that made Borat so unique and turned his comedy into a much more insulting brand. As such it’s suffered.

Look at how the big comedy pieces have changed since Borat. They’ve gone from Borat being such a colossal idiot that people’s inherent biases would come out to him getting a drunk, rowdy crowd for a cage fight and turned into a homosexual makeout session. One is subtle and leads to a fascinating if ugly result. The other is deliberate and easy to see where it’s going while also being unfunny. And that’s where Cohen is at this point; a deliberate provocateur who’s run out of new gags.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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