The kindest thing I can say about Grimsby is that it makes Bruno look good.
Kicking off in the eponymously titled town, little-known outside of the UK, Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen is Nobby: working class bloke, dad to 11 and dyed-in-the-wool devotee to his local football team. An egregious caricature of how the more well-to-do might conceivably picture a welfare-reliant soccer hooligan, Nobby’s 28-year search for his brother ends when he discovers that Sebastian (Mark Strong) is an elite British secret service agent.
Forced to team up with the less than glamorous Nobby to save the world, Grimsby starts with a thrilling action sequence, one of a few whose budgets could have been better deployed in almost any other film. From there it devolves into repetitious, inane vulgarity that is remarkable only for it being a step below what Cohen has delivered in his past few outings, which have gotten increasingly worse.
Borat was a hit with audiences because the screenplay managed to up the ante as the action progressed, hitting peak tastelessness during one particular sequence. Grimsby, on the other hand, is a panoply of gross-out moments that quickly lose their impact, sacrificing any semblance of surprise or originality in gags distinguished by their sickening revulsion. Three particular sequences, all taking place in close concert towards the middle of the film are altogether nauseating and demonstrative of why Borat, and to a lesser extent Bruno, managed (despite their disquieting humour) to still strike a chord with audiences. They tempered gags, which in Grimsby can literally be described as toilet humour, with less self-abasing comedy.
Grimsby is interesting, however, in that its one sustained gag throughout the film appears to be a clear attempt at social commentary, repeatedly depicting the working-folk of the town not only outsmarting British government agents but using their singular attributes and know-how to do what others couldn’t and address an elitist plot to literally wipe them off the face of the earth. Notably, both Spiked and The New Republic recently published essays addressing Grimsby’s portrayal of class politics, unusual in that both websites typically reserve their film commentary for the most earnest of political pictures and leave efforts like Cohen’s latest for the myriad of commentators prepared for the bitter, scathing reviews this film deserves.
Encapsulated in a well-scripted, pathos-laden penultimate speech by its protagonist, Grimsby, which as a film will only really resonate to an extent for those with exposure to the UK class system or a less-than-passing familiarity with football, does try its utmost to depict a triumph of working class mentality and resilience over establishment values. The theme does not play nearly as well as it could have given the film is heralded by an actor as well-known and successful as Cohen, nor is the blithe treatment of its serious subject matter a distraction from the conveyor-belt of puerile causelessness that feels a lot longer than its 83-minute run time.
Grimsby is not ill-judged in every respect. There are a few excellent one-liners, which nicely complement the palpable chemistry between Cohen and Strong, the latter of whom, even amongst a string of spy/espionage pictures (Kingsmen: The Secret Service, The Imitation Game, Zero Dark Thirty, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has hit a very clear low.
A less than advisable outing for Strong and the film’s supporting cast (including the underutilised Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane), Grimsby is just as regrettable for anyone who thought that seeing the new Sacha Baron Cohen film might be a good idea.
Grimsby is in cinemas now.
Glen Falkenstein on The Big Smoke