UK Release Date: 24th February 2016
Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Isla Fisher, Gabourey Sidibe, Ian McShane
Synopsis: A top-notch British spy finds a secret mission compromised when his long-lost brother, who is a lager-swilling football fan from Grimsby, tracks him down and they are forced to go on the run together.
Sacha Baron Cohen has largely stayed away from his trademark character comedy shtick since The Dictator in 2012. He makes his big return with Grimsby, helmed by action cinema stalwart Louis Leterrier. Cohen’s latest steps up the gross-out humour to ridiculous levels and largely pushes the satire to one side in favour of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency with animal penises and jokes about famous people getting AIDS. It’s fair to say that it’s not a success.
Nobby Butcher (Cohen) is a lager-swilling football fan living in Grimsby with his girlfriend Dawn (Rebel Wilson) and about a dozen kids. One day, he is able to track down his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), who is now a British spy. Nobby’s interference causes one of Sebastian’s missions to go horribly wrong and the brothers must go on the run, with Jodie (Isla Fisher) their only friend in the intelligence services.
At the heart of Grimsby is a potentially interesting Sacha Baron Cohen character. Nobby, with his Britpop nostalgia look, enormous brood and relaxed approach to benefit fiddling, is the epitome of the Benefits Street stereotype. In the same way that Ali G’s hip-hop yob reflected middle class fears about the working classes in the early Noughties, Nobby is a caricature of the worst portrayals of the struggling man in Cameron’s Britain. Unfortunately, the film is a lot less interested in that satirical edge than it should be.
I’ve got to get one of these for the kids!
The film is packed with gross-out humour that only has one motive – to shock the audience. The intelligence and social commentary that has always underpinned Cohen’s best work is conspicuous by its absence and replaced by rather uncomfortable attempts to push the boundaries of taste. The “elephant bukkake” set piece in the film’s bizarre middle section is already infamous for the sheer lengths it goes to in order to get laughs, but it actually plays out as a rather underwhelming example of a comedic blunt instrument that doesn’t get the job done given the lack of context to its grotesque imagery.
There’s also a deeply unpleasant gag about major celebrity figures getting AIDS, which feels decades out of date and unduly nasty. It’s important that jokes with such a potentially mean edge direct their fury at targets who, to an extent, deserve it. It’s difficult to know what exactly Daniel Radcliffe has done to warrant being selected as a target and it just means that Grimsby leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
It doesn’t help that Cohen is on autopilot for the entire running time, never once bringing the kind of comedic energy that has powered his best creations. Cohen could play Nobby in his sleep and he’s pretty close to that in Grimsby. Thankfully, Mark Strong is working a great deal harder as the straight man of the piece, gamely taking all of the bodily fluids that the film chucks directly into his face. It’s disappointing to see that the film’s female performers, namely Rebel Wilson and Isla Fisher, are relegated to roles that are nothing more than glorified cameos, with neither getting the chance to make an impact.
It was a trickle of pre-ejaculate at most.
Grimsby fails as both a comedy and an action movie, with the chases and fight sequences helmed by Leterrier in a way that suggests he’s far from comfortable handling the comedic aspect of the film’s tone. When a third act speech tries to bring in a stirring, political message, it feels unearned and shoehorned in to provide a meaning that just isn’t there. It simply isn’t funny enough to sustain even its lean sub-90 minute runtime and feels like half an idea loosely assembled into a film that looks and feels alarmingly cheap.
Pop or Poop?
Sacha Baron Cohen yawns his way through a lazy comedy film that seems to show that his best days as a comedic auteur are behind him. Gross-out gags about rape, penises and horrible illnesses cast an unavoidable shadow over any social commentary that might be lurking within the subject matter. Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson and Isla Fisher are game, but there is no room for them to portray real characters in amongst all of the elephant penises.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.