The Ali G and Borat creator shows little of his anarchic brilliance in this tame comedy, which is just kept from flatlining by moments of high-impact grossout
Sacha Baron Cohen brings his B-game or maybe even his C-game to this moderate new comedy that basically defeated my attempts to like it.
The film features a lairy football fan from Grimsby with Gallagher-esque hair and attitude, called Nobby (Baron Cohen); he discovers that his brother Sebastian (Mark Strong, gamely playing it straight) long-lost in the foster care system, is now a sleek assassin for MI6. Of course the hapless Nobby, along with an entire barmy army of mates, is the only one who can help Strong out after getting him into a terrible jam and foil a sinister eugenicist plot to rid an overpopulated world of the working classes.
Steve Coogan once toured a show called As Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. Sadly, a less successful character is exactly what Nobby is. There is hardly a sliver of the real anarchic brilliance Baron Cohen showed in Borat, his ruined innocent from Kazakhstan, the satirical punch of his great urban hero Ali G or his Austrian fashion maven Brüno, or even his corrupt Dictator from the Middle East. Nobby feels dated and off-target. Even his northern accent often misses the mark.
For me, the best moment was a bad-taste gag set at a charity event, involving Nobby reacting to some football news just as a child with a terminal illness is brought on stage. Theres also a great line about LinkedIn. But I couldnt help hoping in vain that every line would be that good.
Grimsby has the occasional laugh and a succession of finely wrought grossout spectaculars which are reasonably entertaining, especially the egregiously yucky elephant bukkake scene, which does deserve an award of some kind (possibly MTVs WTF Moment prize). Like a kind of high-voltage defibrillator, these touches do keep the film from flatlining. But with its cod-Bond and mock-action material it carries a weird overall feel, like kids TV but produced on a lavish scale with added filth. And often theres a worrying hint of late-period Carry On Britfilm sadness.
Nobby himself is a cheerfully outrageous idler and skiver who has a startling way of celebrating football triumphs with a firework and like Borat, he is the subject of underclass comedy though here slathered with supportive sentimentality. He occupies a bizarre ruin of a hellhole and is utterly happy in a cheekily imagined white-trash world with dozens of children and grandchildren by various partners, the most recent of whom (played by Rebel Wilson) is his devoted love.
Strong, for his part, occupies the entirely different world of the top intelligence officer, but his own lifestyle is of no great interest, and not brought into any sort of meaningful contrast with Nobbys. He just needs a place to lie low after a hit goes bad, and is forced to settle for grim old Grimsby.
But here he finds to his horror that Nobby has been unable to keep his mouth shut about his brother being a top spy. The fact is alluded to in the banner strung across the pub for his welcome home party. His cover, once again, is blown. From there, the action soon relocates to South Africa for some of the high-impact disgust humour, the commitment of which I couldnt help but admire.
There is a string of supporting players given little or nothing to do and no funny lines: Ian McShane and Isla Fisher in mission control; Penélope Cruz as the international woman of mystery; and down the pub in Grimsby there is Johnny Vegas, John Thomson and Ricky Tomlinson. Its possible that they improvised some great stuff which got lost in the edit. They are hugely underused in the finished product.
Baron Cohens brilliance in character comedy has created some glorious movies, but the character route is now coming to an end. This unique talent needs to take another direction.
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