Film review of ‘Grimsby’

One of the highlights of this year’s Academy Awards was Sacha Baron Cohen’s obvious inability to leave the recent race controversy well alone. Against the producer’s wishes, prior to presenting two of the nominations for best picture, he secretly donned the garb of his original 90s creation – Ali-G – and made a refreshing poke at the diversity debate.

London, Capetown, Santiago
Following that character, originally conceived for Channel Four’s The 11 O’Clock Show, Baron Cohen created Borat, Bruno and, less successfully, Aladeen (The Dictator). His latest creation is Nobby Grimsby, an over-sexed, lager-swilling father of eleven who lives on benefits and supports Grimsby Town.

Despite an enviable social calendar and a full family life in the poor fishing port of Grimsby, Nobby’s smile masks the deep pain he’s carried with him ever since he was separated from his brother Sebastian (Strong) in the local orphanage when he was adopted by a southern couple and never seen again.

Now, decades later, Nobby has all but given up hope of them them being reunited when a new lead emerges, revealing that Sebastian was recruited by the British Secret Service. This sends Nobby on a journey of self-discovery from Grimsby to London and South Africa, culminating in an attempt to prevent the annihilation of the world’s football fans at the 2016 World Cup Final in Chile.

Blackpool, Bognor, Bakken
Remember when your friends came over and your dad, immediately realising he had a captive audience, launched into his tired gag repertoire? Initially you wanted the ground to swallow you up. Yet gradually, through cringing tears, you realised your friends weren’t simply being polite, they were egging him on – the more inappropriate the gag, the better – as the old man was genuinely hilarious and buoyed by this wave of adoration.

It was at that moment you started looking at the old duffer differently, seeing him through fresh eyes. Sure, the gags were already 20 years past their sell-by date, but he sure knew how to sell rotten goods. It shouldn’t have worked and while occasionally the gags fell to earth with a deafening thud, more often than not, the man soared.Well, Sacha Baron Cohen is your dad. And Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and a particularly game Mark Strong are your mates.

San Francisco, Hogwarts

The key of course is shock value. Baron Cohen and his collaborators are fearless – part of their appeal is an ability to constantly surprise you, in albeit familiar territory, with the previously uncharted depths they mine in pursuit of that extra laugh.

Whether it’s anal rape by a monstrous elephant penis, incestuous tea bagging or Harry Potter contracting AIDS, everything is delivered with such a mischievous, childlike joie de vivre that it’d take the most miserable of adults to endure the lean running time without so much as a chuckle.

Homie sweet homie
Infantile it may be, and some jokes are simply ill-advised, but I pity the legions of reviewers who found this offering worthy only of a tired groan.

Baron Cohen’s long-standing friendship with Jay Roach, who produced his previous two features, Bruno and The Dictator (both of which are inferior to this), is greatly in evidence here – particularly the Austin Powers franchise – and it’s safe to assume if you’ve previously enjoyed both Roach and Sacha Baron’s particular brand of puerility, you’ll feel well at home in Grimsby.