Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest outing, as Grimsby’s very own Nobby Butcher, is hardly his best work. Although, with a bar set as high as Nobby’s Khazakstani counterpart, that isn’t the most damning of assessments.
I am yet to see a positive review of Grimsby so, as a big Cohen fan, I was very interested in viewing his alleged fall from grace. Expectations were subverted when myself and the rest of the audience found ourselves laughing continually throughout, not much more can be asked of a comedy and I can not remember the last time I laughed so much at the cinema. I wholeheartedly and unashamedly enjoyed this film.
In a caricature of England’s North, Grimsby follows the story of Nobby (Cohen) and his family. When Nobby is reunited with his long lost brother who has since become a secret agent (Mark Strong), their lifestyles intertwine as Nobby gets a taste of the spy life and his brother returns to the estate. The plot is reminiscent of recent fish-out-of-water spy films such as Spy (2015) and Kingsman (2015), especially the latter. Both take a poor scally with a heart of gold and turn them into top spies to combat a population-concerned anti-villain. Whilst Kingsman has it’s moments, Grimsby definitely wins more laughs by not taking itself as seriously. Eventually arriving at the World Cup to save the world, Nobby offers a heartfelt, on the nose social commentary; declaring ‘I’m contributing to society!’, albeit with a giant firework up his arse. Directed Louis Leterrier who’s credits include The Transporter (2002) and The Incredible Hulk (2008), which gives some explanation to the first person action sequences and written by Cohen, Phil Johnston (writer of Wreck it Ralph and the upcoming Zootropolis) and Peter Baynham (writer of Borat, Brüno and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa).
Mark Strong isn’t the only similarity between these two.
I’ve no idea how an American is supposed to interpret this film but in their reviews there seems to be an element of disbelief. To those that are adamant in claiming Grimsby is offensive to Northerners: as someone who grew up in Wythenshawe (Manchester), one of the largest housing estates in Europe and filming location to Channel 4’s Shameless, I can tell you that Nobby and his family are a reasonable caricature of some of the locals. Wythenshawe, as I’m sure is the case with Grimsby, has it’s ups and downs but they are often tarred with the same brush. As Borat is to anyone coming from a country ending in ‘-stan’ , as Brüno is to homosexuals and Ali G is to the wannabe gangsters of London; Grimsby is an amalgam of outsiders stereotypes and misconceptions towards the subject. By turning it up to eleven, Cohen manages to avoid malice by making everything far too ridiculous to be a proper dig.
Grimsby is funny throughout and manages to avoid the common comedy pitfall of becoming overly sentimental in the last act and putting the jokes to one side in order to remind the audience that they are watching a movie. Grimsby handles sentiment through flashback, creating a decent, emotional backstory between the brothers who were separated as children. It did, however, follow a different negative trend in Hollywood comedies by feeling the need to use CGI for some of it’s set pieces, which is distracting and does nothing for comedy. Although, this is redeemed in what is undeniably the most shocking scene (the elephant bit), where the film is elevated to unseen levels of vulgarity by the use of practical effects.
Cohen and Strong work well together with Strong’s trademark seriousness providing apt contrast to Cohen who absolutely relishes his role as Nobby. Unfortunately the same cant be said about the females in the cast. Penélope Cruz plays a stock villain and Isla Fischer and Rebel Wilson, who have both proven their comedy chops in the past, fail to hit the mark. Wilson’s accent is especially distracting. Some notable Brits bring a smile, mainly Ricky Tomlinson and Johnny Vegas.
Overall Grimsby manages to get more of a reaction than any recent comedies, most of which have flatlined. The film heavy-handedly makes a statement against the likes of Benefits Street (Channel 4) and so called ‘poverty porn’ whilst also poking fun at the Donald Trumps of the world. I don’t know how this film will resonate with anyone outside of the North of England, but it definitely struck a chord with someone who knows it well.