You will never look at elephants the same way after seeing Sacha Baron Cohen’s (the mastermind behind Borat, Bruno and Ali G) latest outrageous creation, Grimsby, complete with a surfeit of butt jokes and genitalia.
His newest character is Nobby Butcher, a terminally unemployed but fun-loving football fan who is forced to save the world. Nobby has everything a man from the working class English town of Grimsby could want – nine children and a girlfriend, Dawn (Rebel Wilson), he loves dearly. There’s only one thing missing in his life: his little brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), from whom he was separated as a child. After 28 years of searching, Nobby – an inept idiot – has finally tracked down his bro in London – unaware that he’s an MI6 assassin. After a disastrous reunion in which Nobby accidentally ruins Sebastian’s life and puts them both on the run, they uncover a plot to destroy the world. In order to save humanity and his brother, Nobby embarks upon a global mission and undertakes a transformation from lovable fool to sophisticated secret agent, although that transformation will never be complete.
Think James Bond meets Revenge of the Nerds and you have some idea of where Grimsby is coming at you from. The opening sequence that introduces younger brother Sebastian is an action packed adrenalin rush and then some.
Baron Cohen wanted to create a world of spies as real, as believable and as serious as any action franchise and so engaged the services of an action director, Louise Leterrier (The Transporter, Now You See Me). Leterrier says that shooting comedy was unlike any other kind of filmmaking he’d undertaken. It meant longer takes and putting several cameras onto a scene. He says working with Baron Cohen involved working with a stream of consciousness. “He never stops. He has a surreal mind.”
Baron Cohen has always been about pushing the envelope and that he does again in Grimsby. His anarchic and disruptive approach has won him many fans, but clearly it is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many of the sight gags here are rude, crude and downright disgusting. A number are also extremely funny. Clearly the spy genre is rife with comedic possibilities and Baron Cohen has interwoven an expertly trained, highly skilled operative with a bumbling mug – the yin and the yang, if you like. Consider for a moment an extreme example of the pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito in Twins.
As far as a plausibly implausible storyline is concerned, why not? It is not as if this is the first time that the unlikeliest of spies becomes one. Only last year Melissa McCarthy took it on in Spy, but of course the sight gags in that were positively tame by comparison. There is enough in Grimsby to make a porn star flinch. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Incidentally, “The Donald” (Trump, that is) also gets a working over.
Featuring Isla Fisher, Baron Cohen’s wife, as Sebastian’s love interest (she is his Moneypenny), Grimsby, rated MA, scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Annabelle Wallis, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz & Rebel Wilson
Release Date: 10 March 2016
Rated: MA 15+ (Strong crude sexual humour and nudity)
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television