Sacha Baron Cohen initially had a bit of a shaky start transferring his brand of character based TV comedy to the silver screen, but after hitting it big with Borat, he seemed likely to become a major international comedy star. In the ten years since then however, despite a number of decent supporting roles in other movies, his personal projects, (Bruno, The Dictator) have experienced a steep decline that’s fully cemented with Grimsby (or The Brothers Grimsby in the US).
Honestly, there’s an excruciating sequence about half way through this film when Mark Strong’s character has been shot in the shoulder with a poison dart and requires Cohen’s character to suck out the poison, much to his reluctance. It’s not a funny gag, and goes on for too long anyway. After he performs the deed, Strong informs him that there’s a second dart which is of course lodged in his scrotum. We’re then treated to a seemingly endless scene of Strong’s prosthetic testes being shoved over, and into Cohen’s face. It was at the moment he decides that Cohen isn’t sucking hard enough and he must reposition himself on top just as some onlookers wander in that I threw my hands up and thought “why am I watching this crap? Is anyone finding this funny?”
Oh did I mention they’re playing brothers?
This isn’t even the nadir of this movie though, that occurs later on in a revolting scene that, I kid you not, directly resembles a moment from the legendarily terrible 2001 ‘comedy’ Freddy Got Fingered (hint: it involves elephants). I really didn’t expect quite this level of puerile, crass ‘gross-out’ lewdness from Cohen in an attempt to be edgy. It’s just disgusting. And it’s preceded by a lengthy exchange in which Cohen discusses the details of turd he’s just taken.
As with The Dictator, Cohen has completely dropped the style he originally pioneered, of combining real, unsuspecting people with his comedy characters. Grimsby is an action-comedy, and unlike Cohen’s previous 3 vehicles is directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans). Leterrier shoots the whole thing like a slick action movie, which he handles considerably better than the comedy.
The action and comedy plot strands that make up the film are fairly separate for the most part. There’s a fairly standard spy/action thriller story involving top MI6 agent Sebastian Graves (Strong) trying to take down a shady syndicate who wish to kill a load of civilians. An early assassination attempt is unfortunately thwarted for him by Nobby Butcher (Cohen), his long lost brother. Nobby then for whatever reason ends up tagging along with Sebastian on his mission.
Sebastian is a suave, James Bond-type who was separated from Nobby 28 years previously leading to their lives going in very different directions, a potential emotional core to the film that gets totally lost amongst its shower of gross-out gags. Sebastian received a privileged, middle-class upbringing, while Nobby embodies every lazy stereotype about the British working class. Seeing the usually dignified and respected Mark Strong put through a string of humiliating incidents doesn’t add the extra humorous element utilising a generally non-comedic actor could though, instead it just makes you feel sorry for him. Maybe he had the time of his life making this movie but watching it I’d imagine he’d be filled with regret.
Some other actors are lumped with totally thankless roles too, such as Rebel Wilson and Gabourey Sidibe who are both subjected to interrupted sexual encounters with Nobby and not much else. Leterrier’s aforementioned decision to basically separate out the spy/action side to the story at least means that a few of the performers on that side such as Isla Fisher, Ian McShane and Scott Adkins have more straightforward roles and don’t come across too badly. From the looks if this, action is what Leterrier should stick to, even if what’s here is highly generic stuff. I can barely even remember what the villain’s goals were. This approach wastes any chances to gain laughs from satirising or parodying the spy genre too.
I feel like Grimsby may be trying to invite people to joke about how the most ridiculous aspect of this entire, barrel-scrapingly awful movie is that it expects us to buy into England actually making it to a world cup final but it doesn’t even treat that as the freak occurence it would be, which could surely have landed a few jokes. I will admit that there was one solid laugh in the football stadium-set finale, but after all the dire moments that preceeded it it was much too little, much to late. And then of course the film moved straight back to centering its climactic set-piece upon the insertion of weapons into bodily orifices. A sad testament to how far Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy has now sunk.