Behind every hero is an embarrassing sibling
Sacha Baron Cohen (creator of the characters Borat, Brüno and Ali G) has always reminded me of that one joker at high school, the type of guy who’d constantly disrupt the lesson. Invariably funny at first, his antics would generate laughs amongst the masses, bringing with them both admiration and popularity. As the years passed however, his classmates would tire of his juvenile humor, this forcing the ‘clown’ to become more frantic and disordered — his own desperation evident in each passing gag. While Sacha Baron Cohen hasn’t reached these embarrassing lows just yet, his new comedy Grimsby — known as The Bothers Grimsby in the U.S. — is a sure sign that Baron Cohen’s shtick (similar to that of the aforementioned high school jester) is beginning to dry out.
Taking its cues from the excellent spy-spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), Grimsby focuses on brothers Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sebastian Butcher (Mark Strong), two knuckle-head siblings separated by an adoption as kids. Twenty-eight years on and Nobby has become a beer-guzzling, football-loving hooligan, one who resides in the Lincolnshire town of Grimsby. While the welfare cheating Nobby has everything a guy from Grimsby could possibly want — a handful of children (with names like Django Unchained and Skeletor) and a plus-size girlfriend, Dawn (Rebel Wilson) — he still longs to be reunited with his long-lost little brother. After decades of searching, Nobby eventually tracks Sebastian down unaware that he has become a sophisticated MI6 spy and hitman. When Nobby unknowingly disrupts Sebastian’s mission in London, where he is attempting to thwart the assassination of a famous philanthropist, Rhonda George (Penélope Cruz) — which results in Daniel Radcliffe (played by Matthew Baldwin) being infected with HIV from a wheelchair-bound Israeli-Palestinian kid named Schlomo Khalidi (Yusuf Hofri) — the brothers are targeted by MI6, who now believe that they’re working against the agency. On the run, the mismatched duo discover a plot to destroy the world, this sending them on a globetrotting adventure through a number of shoot-em-up set pieces, where the daft Nobby is forced to pose as a refined secret agent.
Chaotically directed by Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me (2013), Grimsby is a bit of a mixed bag. Ditching the mock-shock-doco approach that served Baron Cohen well in the past, Leterrier stages the film as if he’s making a bona fide action pic, throwing explosions, rapid-fire combat and impressive point-of-view sequences into the mix, creating a real action movie with legitimate stakes, great stunt work and authentic jeopardy. Part of the fun of Grimsby lies in watching how an idiotic character such as Nobby can ultimately change the course of an entire situation if placed smack-bang in the middle. With that said, Sacha Baron Cohen (sharing an uncanny likeness to Liam Gallagher) is actually quite funny (and affable) as the improbable action hero Nobby, scuffling about in his socks and shower sandals, staying true to himself even in the midst of such extraordinary surroundings. It’s amusing to see this binge-drinking vulgarian screw things up one minute, then save Sebastian’s ass the next. On the other hand, Mark Strong, fresh off his success as Merlin in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), is basically reduced to a mere prop, with Strong being thrown about from one humiliating set piece to the next, his sole purpose to service the flick’s repugnant over-the-top gags.
Mocking England’s ‘oiks’ and ‘yobs,’ writers Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Wreck-It Ralph (2012), and Peter Baynham, Alan Partridge (2013), try to inject a message about the working-class struggle into proceedings but end up kicking the poor white man while he’s down with dumb, fat and drunken depictions of the above-mentioned ‘scum.’ Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! What’s more, the titular hardscrabble town gets the same sorta on-screen degradation as Borat’s anti-Semitic, urine-drinking, wife-beating, prostitute-ridden nation of Kazakhstan. This would be fine if any of it was actually funny but the script fails to set-up a large portion of its comedy (things kinda just happen). Without proper grounding, a lot of the jokes just fall flat. Running at a mere 83 minutes, I’m sure filmmakers would’ve had enough leeway to squeeze in that additional background info needed to craft a richer tapestry of on-screen characters who could bounce off one another and build a playful rapport (the brothers never really reclaim their lost bond nor work through any of their issues). Sadly, what we’re left with is a number of random, extremely grotesque shock tactics, most of which revolve around homophobia, anal cavities, male genitalia and bestiality (Baron Cohen trying to one-up his own predecessors). To address the elephant in the room, a scene that sees our heroes take refuge inside of a female mammal has to be one of the most distasteful sequences of late.
The screenplay isn’t particularly kind to Baron Cohen’s co-stars either, his real-life wife Isla Fisher, Now You See Me (2013), being the only member to get away unscathed as Sebastian’s MI6 girl Friday, Jodie Figgis. It’s safe to assume that Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect (2012) has simply been cast for her size (yes, her weight) seeing as its been reported that Baron Cohen employed ‘enormous and revolting’ female extras to represent the ladies in Grimsby. Ian McShane, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), is completely wasted as the head of MI6, barking orders into a cell phone, whilst the beautiful Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle (2014), gets about 10 minutes of screen time as Lina Smit, a blonde bombshell who’s instructed with the task of seducing Sebastian (all she does here is strip down to her bra and panties). Following the comedy dud Zoolander 2 (2016), Penélope Cruz (in her second flop this year) should really hire herself a new agent, as should Oscar nominated Gabourey Sidibe, Precious (2009), who’s been given a thankless role as a South African maid credited as Banu the Cleaner. And don’t get me started on the lovely English actress Tamsin Egerton, Love, Rosie (2014), who has a redundant bit-part as another MI6 employee — seriously, if you’ve got Egerton on the payroll, at least give her some dialogue (or something interesting to do) instead of having her just stand around in the back, staring into video monitors. Disgraceful.
Regardless of Sacha Baron Cohen’s willingness to do anything for the sake of amusement, this raunchy actioner is about as mean spirited as his other offerings — I’d say it falls somewhere in-between the so-so Brüno (2009) and kinda amusing The Dictator (2012). Opting for puerile humor as opposed to clever satire, it’s safe to label Grimsby as the British comedian’s least imaginative effort to date. With the highlight being a scene that sees U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump contracting AIDS, I can understand why there’s been speculation of American distributor Sony shying away from the film (possibly due to its political implications) — I guess they don’t want another controversy like that of 2014 with The Interview’s killing of Kim Jong-un. I sense a grim future for Grimsby.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Grimsby is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia