Saturday 24 February 2018

Grimsby movie review: 'A grim encounter with a former comedy prince'

No laughing matter: Sacha Baron Cohen fails in 'Grimsby'.
No laughing matter: Sacha Baron Cohen fails in 'Grimsby'.

Chris Wasser

We’re getting worried now. Ten years since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (which we shall refer to simply as Borat from here on out, thank you very much) and what does its ingenious star co-writer and performer, one Sacha Baron Cohen, have to show for himself? A lot, actually.

Borat made hundreds of millions at the box-office. It gave Baron Cohen — then best-known for donning a beanie and calling himself Ali G — a proper, cinematic platform on which to stand and deliver more shamelessly giddy goods. The world needed a new comedy method man, and that’s exactly what it got.

Then we saw Bruno (meh); The Dictator (pass); and a peculiar auld turn in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd that nobody remembers. Minor supporting roles aside — the Baron Cohen USP is that a) he almost always stays in character to promote, well, his character, and b) he almost always ventures way the beyond the call of duty. Go gross, or go home, is the apparent motto. But what happened to the punchlines, eh?

Alas, Baron Cohen might yet suffer the law of diminishing returns with the truly horrid Grimsby, in which all manners of subtlety and ingenuity are tossed aside for a grim (if you’ll excuse the pun) and largely unfunny exercise in vulgarity. Case in point: at one stage, Baron Cohen’s character, Nobby, ends up crammed inside a female elephant’s nether regions, fighting off the onslaught of a male elephant’s… well, it’s not his trunk, I’ll tell you that much.

Grimsby will upset people (which it has). The residents of the real-life Grimsby will be furious (some of them are). But we shouldn’t be worried about how Grimsby (the film) portrays the people of Grimsby (the town). Even if it does so in a spectacularly poor light (FYI, it was actually filmed in Essex and Tilbury).

Our biggest concern lies with the script: a nasty, contradictory hodgepodge of ideas that, though ambitious in scope (lairy Engerland football fanatic tracks down his estranged brother, who turns out to be an assassin spy fella with MI6), relies heavily on a number of gross-out sketches involving Nobby (the footie hooligan) and a stuffed toilet, Nobby and his brother’s poisoned testicles, Nobby looking like a Liam Gallagher impersonator from Stars in their Eyes.

Why has director Louis Leterrier allowed for the action sequences to be filmed as though we were playing a video game? Dunno.

Why bother casting Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz and Isla Fisher if you’re going to give them SFA to do? Dunno.

Full marks to, um, Mark Strong, who desperately tries to keep a straight face as Nobby’s long-lost brother, Sebastian, but my God, does the chap look mortified. It might have something to do with the ridiculous plot, in which Nobby and Sebastian travel the world on a secret mission to clear the latter’s name and take down a team of deadly terrorists that... oh, you can figure the rest out from the poster.

Developed and co-written by Baron Cohen, Grimsby is dated and clumsy; childish and churlish, with a few half-arsed Bond gags thrown in for good measure.

It’s also poorly edited, clocking in at a mere 83 minutes and celebrating its tastelessness at every available opportunity. Which, incidentally, would be fine, if any of it were even the slightest bit amusing. And don’t get me started on the England vs Ireland match on the box at Nobby’s local.

Baron Cohen can do better than this. Baron Cohen has done better than this. Here, he is merely underplaying his talents, delivering a flat and woefully misguided picture, in which the once-promising prince of cinematic goofiness finally loses his crown. Christ, he even struggles to hold on to the right accent.

That would never have happened in Borat...


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