I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for the already-infamous elephant scene. More on that later. The only reason that GRIMSBY isn’t a worse 2016 comedy than Adam Sandler’s THE DO-OVER is that I laughed a couple of times while watching it.
25 years ago, Nobby Butcher (Sacha Baron Cohen) lost his brother. Now, with a diabolical plot to foil, his secret agent baby brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) resurfaces and reluctantly takes Nobby for the ride of his life. Working together, will the Butcher Brothers be able to combine their…um…skills and save the world, England and Grimsby, and perhaps get to watch the footie along the way?
I’d like to be clear here: I like Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s a funny guy. That is, when he cares. BORAT and BRÜNO both allowed him years to develop, transform into, and live as, a single character. Even THE DICTATOR had a pleasing satirical edge for all its shortcuts. But aside from a couple of sights I will never forget in the South Africa segment and Nobby’s time-bubble names for his many children (Skelator is the eldest, Django Unchained the youngest) this ends up being Cohen’s weakest work by far.
Mark Strong is being an awful good sport about all of this. He makes a good Bond-alike and I really hope he got something out of the bottom-shelf humiliation Cohen put him through. Rebel Wilson turns up for a fat joke and a BASIC INSTINCT reference, then disappears entirely until the end. Daniel Radcliffe apparently said no to making a cameo where he ingests HIV-positive blood, so they rely on an unconvincing lookalike. They don’t even bother doing that with Donald Trump, simply superimposing his head on someone in a crowd (see if you can spot the studio sweating about this during the end credits). The cream of British TV comedy turn up for a single shot (Rebecca Front) or if they’re (un)lucky, a couple of lines (Ricky Tomlinson still in his ROYLE FAMILY costume) and everyone involved really should be looking for new agents.
At least the elephant scene – beyond tasteless, so extreme and excessive – is funny. I can’t deny it that. The sheer onslaught of what you witness, which I shall not describe here, forces a reaction from you and that reaction for me was an uncontrollable fit of giggles. It was about time I found a release because I found it incredibly difficult to laugh elsewhere.
The idea that the English football team would reach the final of anything should be a joke in itself, but bizarrely here it’s played straight. The only thing we’re supposed to laugh at about Nobby’s chest tattoo proclaiming “England! World Champions! 200016!” is Nobby being 198,000 years out on the date.
Grimsby is mean-spirited, low-hanging fruit comedy. It tries to proclaim a working-class, anti-establishment hurrah in its final moments despite clinging to cruel stereotypes throughout and giving us nobody to root for. It wouldn’t have been any better without the over-the-top spy antics. Louis Leterrier’s interest clearly lies in the film’s glossy POV action sequences, and these are fine, but the film sags when it returns to what should be the meat of the story, namely the love between brothers. The flashbacks with Nobby and Sebastian are played completely straight, almost kitchen sink drama-esque, and they just don’t work. If they were more maudlin they’d almost be funny for trying too hard, but as they are they’re just dull.
Grimsby isn’t even worth getting angry about. Aside for the considerable work by the production design team in creating the film’s central revolting set-piece, no thought whatsoever was put into the meanness or the bad taste here, it was just easy. So rather than froth at the mouth at Sacha Baron Cohen’s nerve, you should pity him. You should pity Mark Strong and the supporting cast who said yes to being in this film. You should certainly pity the people of the town of Grimsby, who as well as being the butt of most of the jokes didn’t even get the film crew visiting as compensation – it was all made in Essex. SSP