Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Isla Fisher, Gabourey Sidibe
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston
Personally I’m not a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I thought he was very funny as Ali G and as Borat but, once I started catching on to the joke, he became less funny for me. In all of his films he plays an outrageous character, goes after easy targets and tries to achieve the most offensive or grossest humour he possibly can. This kind of humour can work well if done in a clever or skilful way but in Cohen’s case it just feels worn-out. What made Borat work was that Cohen was not a household name when it came out and so audiences didn’t know what to expect from him. Ever since that film made him a celebrity I think that his comedy has since become all too familiar. Today you know exactly what you’re going to get from a Sacha Baron Cohen film: gross-out humour and topical bad taste comedy. Those who like Cohen’s films and want to see more of the same will find plenty of it in Grimsby. I however am not one of those people.
Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a working-class, beer-guzzling football hooligan from the northern England fishing town of Grimsby. It has been 28 years since he lost his younger brother who is now Sebastian Graves (Mark Strong), MI6’s top agent. While on a mission to prevent a terrorist plot, Sebastian is discovered by Nobby who proceeds to cock up his operation, resulting in Sebastian becoming an enemy of the state and forced to go on the run. Nobby brings Sebastian home to Grimsby where they, along with Nobby’s wife Dawn (Rebel Wilson) and their 11 children, can lay low for a while and perhaps even reconnect. Meanwhile Sebastian entreats his colleague and friend Jodie Figgs (Isla Fisher) to help him pursue a lead that could clear his name. Once he discovers a plot that could threaten the entire world, Sebastian realises that the only man he can trust to help him stop it is his idiot brother.
For the most part I found very little of this film to be funny. There were a few moments that managed to get a laugh out of me like this one time near the end when Nobby decides to intervene in the World Cup final. Most of the jokes however are attempts by Cohen to be as shocking and vulgar as he possibly can and they just didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t disgusted or offended by this film in the same way that I was by Dirty Grandpa, I simply found the comedy to be quite weak. The film certainly doesn’t hold out on the gross-out department as it displays a series of outlandishly crass situations that leave very little to the imagination. When I said that I knew what I was getting when going into a Sacha Baron Cohen film, it doesn’t mean that I could have guessed the nature of the situations that Nobby and his brother would find themselves in. I could certainly never have predicted that a film about a football hooligan and a spy would lead me to a scene like the one involving the elephant. Nevertheless those scenes felt more gratuitous to me than humourous. It’s like the film thinks that being as gross as possible is the same thing as being funny.
One thing that can usually be said for Sacha Baron Cohen is that he is often so committed to his characters that he is able to completely disappear into them. In Nobby’s case however the actor remains in the forefront. Maybe this is the result of a further increase in Cohen’s celebrity status after appearing in such acclaimed works as Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables, or it could simply be because Nobby is not nearly as interesting or funny a character as Ali G or Borat. Mark Strong plays his part very seriously, leading to some good deadpan line deliveries, but gives up much of his dignity in the process. How the producers managed to convince him or the other talented actors like Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane and Gabourey Sidibe to be in this film I’ll never know. I’d be very interested in knowing what Strong was thinking as he and Cohen were filming the scene with the poison dart.
The film is crude and silly but not necessarily in an unpleasant way. I found Grimsby to be more senseless than repulsive. The film does try to take its shots the same way that Cohen’s previous films have (including one particular gag involving Donald Trump) but it isn’t clever or radical enough to make any sort of a meaningful impact. In a weird way the humour in this film, while definitely explicit and obscene, is actually pretty harmless. The comedy amounts to little more than toilet humour and sex jokes (albeit graphically so) and is too childish and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Those who enjoy this brand of comedy will like it for what it is. To me however it is a cheap, tactless comedy with some overly trashy scenes that come across as desperate rather than edgy.