Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher
Genre: Action/ Comedy
Dim-witted Nobby Butcher (Cohen) lives a much contended life with his wife (Rebel Wilson), nine children, and the money he receives from the state which he uses predominantly for excessive drinking and supporting the England football team. However the one thing missing in his life is his little brother Sebastian (Strong), who he hasn’t seen for 28 years since they were separated as children. After hearing of his whereabouts, Nobby sets off to reunite with his brother, but discovers that he is a top secret agent with MI6 and has just uncovered a plot that will put the world in danger. With Sebastian wrongfully accused and on the run, he must now reluctantly use Nobby’s help to save the world.
In the current climate of the mainstream film industry being more cynical than ever, whenever the words ‘action’ and ‘comedy’ are put together to describe the film I often get that sinking feeling and expect the worst. The even more depressing fact is that these painfully low expectations are often met. Well, for his latest character creation Sacha Baron Cohen has decided to dabble in this genre, though of course it is most certainly quite clear from the off that he is still very much partial to a fair helping of crude humour.
Indeed a vast majority of the gags and comic set pieces feature various parts of the human anatomy (as well as elephants!) or bodily functions/ fluids. Grimsby (or The Brothers Grimsby as it is called elsewhere – which is in some ways a better title) certainly has more in common with The Dictator than Borat or Bruno. Of course the obvious reason is that Grimsby is fiction as opposed to picking on real life characters, but it is a very basic, tried and tested initial narrative concept that relies predominantly on lowest common denominator toilet humour.
However, not only is Grimsby better than the extremely formulaic The Dictator, but it is still vastly superior to anything that Seth MacFarlane has done. Despite going for a similar type of humour to MacFarlane, Cohen and co-writers Phil Johnston and Peter Baynham still deliver the gags with more panache, but also crucially produce likeable characters and more narrative rigour and discipline. This is all helps to make the suitably brief 86 minutes enjoyable and often genuinely funny.
Admittedly the gags tend to miss as many times as they hit, and the jokes at the expense of a certain class in British society never really feel like social commentary but lazy jokes based on stereotypes. However it is also obvious that they have thought some of the jokes through and also elements of the plot itself. Of course the plot is pretty basic, but has the right amount of things going on without over complicating things, but crucially the film never even attempts to take itself particularly seriously. We have flashbacks offering backstory to explain what happened to the two brothers, but though it does feel that the film is suitably aware of just how clichéd it is, and it also suitably tied up in various parts of the plot very well.
For me the most crucial element of why Grimsby is tremendously enjoyable is the fact that both main characters are immensely likeable and worth routing for. Sacha Baron Cohen can be a very charismatic screen presence when on top form, and though the character of Nobby Butcher could have easily been an irritating walking stereotype, Cohen’s charismatic performances does make him surprisingly likeable and rise above the character’s extremely clichéd characteristics. Of course the casting of Cohen’s co-star was always going to be crucial, and though this is a role that is by no means much of a test for him, the always excellent Mark Strong not only convincingly looks the part as a secret agent, but is great fun to watch as the straight man to Cohen’s clown. It is certainly very possible that sharing the screen with a great actor like Mark Strong makes Cohen raise his game, and the two of them most certainly share great chemistry and produce a chalk and cheese double act that are very much worth routing for.
In terms of action, Cohen has made sure to enlist the services of a director that knows the genre, and Louis Leterrier delivers some slick action sequences. Of course plenty of moments are intentionally over the top and that is very much part of the joke, but this also does help to make the whole experience silly, enjoyable fun. The times it tries to be slightly serious, satirical or a social commentary it does often fail and risks embarrassing itself, and though the gross-out humour may not appeal to all, for those willing to go with it, overall Grimsby is outrageous fun.
Though the focus crude humour and bodily fluids is certainly not a change in direction for Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest character creation, Grimsby has a high enough gag rate and energy to be an enjoyable and silly romp.