Grimsby (aka The Brothers Grimsby), 2016.
Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Isla Fisher and Ian McShane.
A football hooligan tracks down his long-lost brother, a spy for MI6, and they end up on the run from a terrorist organisation.
Sacha Baron Cohen is a brave man. In the past he’s put himself in potentially life-threatening situations for the sake of comedy, and his stunts have incurred the wrath of people of pretty much every nationality, religion and sexual orientation there is. Residents of Grimsby have already publicly declared their anger at their town being portrayed as home of the ‘scum of the Earth’, as the characters in this film proudly describe themselves (even though all the scenes set there were actually filmed in Essex!) The plot actually spends very little time in England – it’s the aforementioned ‘scum’ (i.e. binge-drinking, drug-taking, benefit-scrounging football hooligans) that are the main target of ridicule anyway.
Cohen, who co-wrote the script, pulls no punches when it comes to depicting Grimsby’s residents – his character Nobby has eleven children, one of whom is called Luke, simply because they’ve shaved his head to make it look like he’s got leukaemia, so they can claim benefits for it! That’s about as satirical as the films gets, and whether you find things like that amusing or just plain offensive is a good indicator of how much you’ll enjoy this film (and speaking of satirical crudeness, at one point Nobby’s youngest child is shown watching the South Park movie – remember back in 1999 when that film was considered the height of big-screen vulgarity? How times have changed!)
This film contains numerous set-pieces involving squatting, shaving, faeces and fornication (human and animal), each of which pushes the boundaries of bad taste to new and disgusting lengths. Let me put it this way, if you thought Borat, Bruno and The Dictator were funny but just not vulgar enough, then this is the film for you! The highlight (or low point, depending on your tolerance for such things) is when Nobby and his secret agent brother Sebastian (Mark Strong on decent deadpan form) take refuge from a group of assassins by hiding inside an elephant’s vagina! It’s strange to think that Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely win an Oscar this weekend for a performance where he did almost the same thing with a horse (except that was its stomach, and he wasn’t joined by a procession of thrusting pachyderm penises!)
Louis Leterrier’s direction is very inconsistent with the exception of the opening set-piece, which is seen through Mark Strong’s eyes and has a certain Crank‘-esque flair; the action scenes are filmed and edited in that incomprehensible way that most action films seem to favour these days. This is contrasted with dialogue scenes where you can tell the camera has been locked off and the actors have been let loose to improvise for minutes at a time (Rebel Wilson stated in an interview that her longest take with Cohen was over 40 minutes long!). Credit to them however; despite the uneven tone, the results are funnier than, say, the average Judd Apatow film.
Cohen is such a commanding presence in the film that most of the other actors are inevitably sidelined. Ian McShane and Cohen’s real life wife Isla Fisher plays perhaps the straightest straight roles ever as Sebastian’s MI6 commander and co-worker respectively. Rebel Wilson gets a couple of moments to shine as Nobby’s large and loud girlfriend, but I suspect great chunks of her role were left on the cutting room floor (same goes for Tamsin Egerton, who I don’t recall having any lines at all). Since it’s so easy to predict, it’s barely even a spoiler to reveal that Penélope Cruz turns out to be the villain, but all she’s really required to do for the part is sport a Sharon Osbourne haircut and try her best to hide the fact that she learned her lines phonetically. I will say this for her, however – although her evil plan involves killing lots of people in a bid to curb overpopulation (currently a popular motive in movies, having been used in Kingsman and the upcoming Inferno adaptation), at least she’s honest about the type of people she wants to eradicate.
One of the main reasons why Borat remains Cohen’s best film is because the character of Borat was, at heart, a kind-hearted person (albeit completely clueless when it came to Western ideas of etiquette), something that Bruno and his character in The Dictator were not. Nobby, for all his misspelt tattoos and firework-up-the-arse antics, really loves his family and genuinely wants to help his brother. In fact, right up until the final act when he discovers the joy of gun violence (“it really detaches you from the guilt of your actions!”) he’s a very endearing character. A moment where it’s revealed what separated the brothers in their youth might even have bordered on moving, if it wasn’t dismissed after five seconds (then again, such a moment would have been out-of-place in a film as fundamentally juvenile as this).
This is the kind of film where you’ll probably laugh a lot whilst watching it, but you might be ashamed of yourself for doing so! There are three reasons why I’m giving it three stars instead of two; firstly, it ended on a high, with two of the biggest laughs saved for the final few minutes (they involve the fate of a certain Mr Trump, and an end credits clip in which Nobby’s first assignment as a spy gets off to a bad start) and a scene featuring a Therapist gag so simple and genius I was tempted to applaud when I saw it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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