For comedy films, 2016 has got off to a very shaky start. If it weren’t for the presence of a certain fourth-wall breaking superhero, tragic misfires like Zoolander 2, Ride Along 2 and Dirty Grandpa might have fans of the genre worrying a bit. Unfortunately, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest flick Grimsby does nothing to alleviate these concerns. Instead, it may just intensify them, as Baron Cohen offers up a movie that’s offensive, crass, juvenile, and, worst of all, just plain unfunny.
Baron Cohen plays Nobby, a football hooligan and father of eleven from the rural English town of Grimsby. Separated from his younger brother during childhood, Nobby has spent the best part of three decades searching for his sibling. A chance sighting by a fellow resident of Grimsby gives Nobby the chance to reunite with his brother at a government charity function. His brother, Sebastian, (Mark Strong), in the intervening years, has become an MI6 agent, and is attending to prevent an assassination attempt. Nobby’s presence causes Sebastian to shoot the wrong target, making Sebastian a wanted man, forcing him to go rogue and to uncover a larger plot so that he can clear his name. And Nobby comes too.
And that’s not the worst premise in the world. It’s not the most original, but there’s plenty of fertile soil in a buddy-spy film utilising time-tested comedic roles, with Strong playing the straight man to Baron Cohen’s funny man. Some serious issues arise though in terms of what Baron Cohen considers funny.
The tone is set immediately, and never lets up, as a barrage of jokes about dicks, asses, faeces and ejaculation get trotted out consistently throughout. It even manages the rare dick-faeces combination joke in one particularly off-colour scene in a South African hotel.
And though pushing the boundaries of good taste has been Baron Cohen’s bread and butter, it’s usually been done with at least some wit and purpose. Even Ali G’s latest appearance at the Oscars is evidence of this, ignoring political correctness without sacrificing humour.
In Grimsby however, none of this wit is on display. Instead, Baron Cohen goes for shock humour for the sake of shock humour, expecting laughs from the mere mention of things that usually go undiscussed. But by the time the film reaches its most shocking point, and Nobby and Sebastian have to hide themselves inside an elephant’s vagina (yes, you read that right), the audience is so worn down by the bombardment of laugh-less crass humour that it just feels asinine and desperate rather than funny.
To Cohen’s credit, he’s at least trying though. Even if the script he’s written is painfully bad, he attempts to imbue Nobby with some sort of relatability, bringing a touch of heart to the backstory of his estrangement with his brother. Plus, he well and truly commits to the foul antics he’s plotted out for himself, which is more than can be said for pretty much everyone else. Mark Strong looks embarrassed to be there, and Rebel Wilson, as Nobby’s girlfriend, is on autopilot. Penelope Cruz, who plays an actor/philanthropist responsible for the charity function, can’t even gather the wherewithal to make her character’s plans sound remotely convincing.
The only redeeming feature might be some decent action sequences. The film delves into some pretty cool first-person perspective shots during some of the fight scenes, but, really, it’s not what you going into a Sacha Baron Cohen film for.
There’s definitely an audience for this film. It will depend on where the line is for you between edgy and desperate. Those new to the genre might get a kick from the lack of political correctness, but those familiar with Baron Cohen may resent Nobby for being by far the least funny of Sacha’s personas.