Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, Tamsin Egerton, Ricky Tomlinson, David Harewood, Scott Adkins, Sam Hazeldine, Barkhadi Abdi.
The spy genre is rife material for spoofing, and there have been numerous attempts, from the classic tv series Get Smart through to Leslie Nielsen’s Spy Hard to the more recent Melissa McCarthy vehicle simply entitled Spy. And now we get Grimsby, the new action comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen, the man who gave us such distinctive characters as Ali G, Borat and Bruno. Cohen is an acquired taste as he often caters to the lowest common denominator with his anarchic and crass brand of humour. His ambush tactics and deliberately offensive interviews with celebrities were a joke that wore thin. As with The Dictator here he tries to adopt a narrative approach to the material, with decidedly mixed results.
Cohen himself plays Nobby Butler, who lives in Grimsby, one of the more economically depressed and disadvantaged communities in England, where unemployment is high and most of the residents are on one form of welfare or another. Nobby’s chief interests are soccer and drinking. His nine children are named after various superheroes and comic book characters. But Cohen’s humour at the expense of the impoverished and disenfranchised comes across as mean spirited.
Nobby’s sad life has largely been shaped by the forced separation from his younger brother 28 years earlier when they were orphaned and sent off to live with a foster family. Now Nobby is reunited with Sebastian (played by Mark Strong, from Kick-Ass, etc). Sebastian is a top secret agent, a lethal combination between James Bond and Jason Bourne, who is in the middle of an important assignment when Nobby catches up with him. Sebastian is trying to stop an assassination attempt against Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz), a philanthropist and head of an international health organisation that is trying to eradicate diseases in the third world.
But Nobby’s presence causes the assignment to go wildly awry, leading to Sebastian being hunted by his own organisation. Nobby gives Sebastian temporary sanctuary back in Grimsby, thinking that it would be the last place anyone would look for him. But once his location has been revealed, Sebastian and Nobby have to go on the run again. They are reluctantly forced to work together to uncover massive conspiracy involving the sinister organisation known as Maelstrom and its plan to unleash a deadly virus on the unsuspecting crowds at the World Cup final in Chile.
The mission takes the mismatched pair from London to South Africa to Santiago, giving the film the sort of exotic international locations common to most globetrotting spy thrillers.
Taking over directorial chores from Cohen’s usual collaborator Larry Charles is Louis Leterrier, better known for his work with the Transporter franchise. He brings the same sort of kinetic approach to the well-staged action sequences, but here the action is played largely for laughs. Comedy is unfamiliar territory for Leterrier, and some of the gags do fall flat. Cohen pushes the envelope with his anarchich and gross out approach to comedy. Much of the humour revolves around male genitalia, bodily fluids and sex, and is enough to make the more prudish blush.
And there is one particularly gross out sequence that is hard to forget – and you will never look at elephants or possibly even Mark Strong in the same way again. Nobby and Sebastian are forced to hide inside the nether regions of an elephant and are drenched in bucket loads of elephant sperm. This scene is the most tasteless of its type since Freddie Got Fingered, and sets a new low benchmark in screen comedy, this from a man who has often plumbed the depths of gross out comedy.
Nobby is another variation on the gormless idiot and social misfit that Cohen has played many times before. Strong has played the action hero before and he brings the right physical touch to his role as Sebastian, the unstoppable spy, but he plays the familiar tropes for laughs here as the straight foil to Cohen’s inanne character. Has Oscar winner Penelope Cruz’s career dried up to such an extent that she is reduced to appearing in dumb comedies like this and the recent Zoolander 2? No wonder she looks bored throughout the whole thing. Ian McShane is wasted in a small role as the gruff head of MI6, while Isla Fisher (Cohen’s wife) plays Jodie, a sort of Moneypenny to Sebastian’s superspy. Rebel Wilson does her usual shtick here as Nobby’s white trash wife Dawn.
Grimsby is deliberately lowbrow stuff, but with a relatively brisk and brief run time of 83 minutes it never quite outstays its welcome.
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