This spy spoof from Sacha Baron Cohen takes a scattergun approach to comedy.
March 10, 2016
His resume includes a racially confused rapper, a Kazakh journalist, an Austrian fashion reporter and a fictional dictator. But Sacha Baron Cohen's cavalcade of colourful characters doesn't stop there. In Grimsby, the man also known as Ali G, Borat and Brüno becomes a welfare-receiving, soccer-mad, booze-guzzling father of nine from England's north, in the first of his films not to bear the name of its protagonist. Taking its title from a place rather than a person doesn't demonstrate the movie's broader range, though. Instead, it indicates the film's mostly muddled nature, with gross-out jokes Cohen's main concern.
In the eponymous Lincolnshire town, Nobby Butcher (Baron Cohen) satisfies his sexually voracious girlfriend (Rebel Wilson), oversees his brood of kids, and parties at the local pub, all while pining for his long-lost brother. Discovering that his sibling has been spotted after a 28-year absence, he heads to London, but instead of a happy reunion with secret service agent Sebastian (Mark Strong), he foils a top-secret mission. When Sebastian is branded a rogue operative in the fallout, Nobby pledges to help him. First, they hide out in Grimsby, before hopping from South Africa to Chile to stop a terrorist attack.
With Grimsby, Baron Cohen attempts once again to dissect ignorance and prejudice – in this case, his target is class and prevailing attitudes about the less wealthy. Yet the slyness that typically surrounds his silly satire has been dialled several notches down. While he's never laughing at the people he's depicting – even adding a blatant late celebration of so-called scum (his words) into the mix – he's more often focusing his attention on bodily functions and primal urges.
Genitals, placing items in places they're not meant to go, fatal illnesses, and fornication of the human and animal kind all ramp up the crudeness, though the humour is hysterical one minute and stretched the next. Indeed, even when the chuckles flow freely, Grimsby struggles with consistency. As an actor, Baron Cohen is clearly committed to his well-meaning clown of a character, as is Strong playing the more serious side of their odd couple double. Sadly, fellow cast members including Wilson, Isla Fisher and Penélope Cruz are given little to do. As one of the film's co-writers, Cohen flits busily between topics, targets and pop culture references with a scattergun approach.
The same chaos extends to the feature's action-comedy claims. Spy spoofs just keep coming to screens, making Grimsby's espionage genre parody fall flat in the wake of Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service. The well-shot first-person-shooter-style segments are effective, but they're awkwardly shoehorned in. Dumped in the middle of the movie's exaggerated absurdity, they're enough to give you whiplash. Yes, you'll laugh during Grimsby, but you'll also spend much of its brief 83-minute running time adjusting to its patchiness.