So Sacha Baron Cohen is back on our screens, and this time he’s teamed up with Mark Strong in the Louis Leterrier directed Grimsby. If you’re wondering where you know the director’s name from, he’s known mainly for the fun romp that was Now You See Me, the affront to the original that was 2010’s Clash of the Titans, and the “not as bad as the Ang Lee one” The Incredible Hulk. Luckily here, the screenplay is by Cohen, Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph, Cedar Rapids), and Peter Baynham (Borat, Bruno, Hotel Transylvania), so he is left very much to keep the action ticking over, and does a very decent job of it.
Now, Cohen’s films tend to be true cinematic Marmite, and for full disclosure, I do like them. His films that is, not Marmite, that is another thousand words that could be written in denunciation of that horror, but I digress. I personally find that Cohen is a very clever guy, and uses some of the more base elements of human nature to shine a laser light on some topics that really need us to look at. Borat and Bruno were mostly unscripted, and let people hang themselves with their own prejudices and actions, and his move into fully scripted movies with The Dictator still had some very astute barbs about US Foreign Policy hidden among the fart jokes. Grimsby is more subtle in those elements of its comedy, and a whole lot less subtle with everything else.
The basic story line is that Nobby (Cohen) and his brother Seb/Sebastian (Strong) where split up after the death of their parents, Nobby staying in Grimsby, growing up to be a working class yob with nine kids, living off the social, obsessed with football, and never having given up the hope of finding his brother. Seb was taken to London, and when we first meet him we find out he’s now working as a secret agent for an off-shoot of MI6. This opening P.O.V. mission from Sebastian is what the movie version of Doom was trying to do ten years ago, and is excellently directed. It’s fast, brutal, and will get your blood pumping.
From here we find there is an evil plan afoot, and Seb must come to a gala event in London, and in the least feasible, and least explained set of circumstances that I can remember in cinema history for quite some time, Nobby finds out, and manages to get a ticket to go along too. Of course he screws up his brother’s mission, and again we must strain our Suspension-of-Disbelief muscles to accept that his handlers, that have his P.O.V. on camera, multiple cameras, and drones in the venue, think he’s assassinated someone. The thing is, it’s so far from plausible that you let go at this point, and just go with it, and that is definitely the right choice.
Nobby and Seb manage to escape, and go into hiding in Grimsby, with only Seb’s handler Margaret (Isla Fisher) believing that they are innocent, and helping solve the worldwide conspiracy that takes them to South Africa, and even Chile for a World Cup Final. They do get help along the way from drug dealers, Maids, the colourful characters of Grimsby, including Nobby’s beloved Lindsey (Rebel Wilson) and some elephants in one of the most indescribable scenes that has ever been put to celluloid. This scene in fact is the straw that will break a lot of camel’s backs. If you go with it you’ll laugh. You might not be proud of yourself for it, but you will laugh, however I know some folks that may even just walk out of the cinema at this point.
After some more japes, excellent digs at Donald Trump, and some fairly gross humour, our heroes save the day, as we always knew they would, and the brothers gain a new understanding of each other. The world is safe, and we get up and go home with a sense of slight shock, and a few aching muscles from the laughing.
Is this as smart as some of Cohen’s previous work? Probably not. He has dialed back a lot on some of the subversive elements of his comedy, and dialed up the reliance on bodily fluids and orifices, but that might actually be more thoughtfully intentioned than we give him credit for. The smarts are still there. The commentary on the desensitisation of gun violence is initially a very base joke, but comes to be a stronger point as the scenes involving it carry on, and there’s stuff in there about class and self-worth that does make your brain start ticking along.
On a more general note, the cast are all pretty good at what they do. Mark Strong is a great foil to Cohen, and their story ark is very satisfying for it. A lot of the supporting cast are a little wasted, and why they show up where and when they do is a little unbelievable, but as I mentioned earlier, for this film you really do just have to let that go.
So, would I recommend this to you? Well, if you are easily offended, or if you’re not a fan of Cohen, nothing I could say would make this a film you would enjoy. However, if you like some gross-out humour, with a little bit (OK a tiny bit) of biting satire added to the mix, and you can accept that isn’t quite to the standards of some of Cohen’s earlier work, you’ll have a great time watching Grimsby, and probably feel a little bit dirty afterwards too.
• never seeing elephants in the same way again!
• some of the least subtle comedy to come out of Hollywood in years.
• some really subtle subversive jokes thrown into the mix
• the dynamic between Cohen and Strong
• some of the least subtle comedy to come out of Hollywood in years
• an over-reliance on bodily fluids
• plot-holes you could drive a herd of elephants through