Sacha Baron Cohen has a fine knack for ruffling feathers with his films. With Ali G he forced Staines in to redefining itself as Staines-upon-Thames; as Borat he single-handedly dismantled Kazakhstan’s reputation as forward thinking new country; and with The Dictator he achieved wide spread censorship for offending a host of world leaders. With such a destructive track record, the people of Grimsby must have feared the very worst when Cohen christened his new film after the Humberside city. And the worst Cohen did unleash. In the film’s opening fifteen minutes we’re shown Grimsby in all its glory; infinite queues to the job centre, kids smoking crack and most of the town’s population boozing in the local grotty pub, all in England shirts of course. It’s a hellhole quite literally twinned with Chernobyl.
The embodiment of this dystopian benefits-street-on-speed mutation is Nobby Butcher (Sacha Baron Cohen). Sporting a Liam Gallagher hairdo, beer gut and England shirt, with accompanying tattoos, he’s the overblown caricature of what we’ve been led to believe is the average working class Englishman. Cohen once again satirises and accentuates lazy stereotypes and clichés for the basis of his comedy. With Grimsby he parodies a place that’s known to the public, mostly in a negative light, but remains largely a black hole to the average person. Essentially it’s the Northern equivalent of the sordid sounding Staines. It’s this division between reality and hearsay that Cohen exploits with a toxic mix of vulgarity, offence and downright puerile humour. It’s completely stupid and crude from start to finish, but, though you’ll be embarrassed to admit it, very funny indeed.
Essentially Grimsby is a classically staged buddy comedy in the mould of The Other Guys, 48 Hours or even, dare I say it, Some Like it Hot, where the laughs come from an ill-suited duo overcoming their differences in order to save the day. In this case, it’s the pairing of idiotic half-wit Nobby and his long last brother, suave spy Sebastian (Mark Strong). After 28 years apart the Butcher brothers are reunited when Nobby tracks Sebastian down to a charity event in London. Blissfully unaware of Sebastian’s position in MI5, Nobby bumbles in on an assignment and accidentally sets in motion a chain of events that frames the siblings as the most wanted men in England.
It’s ridiculous and hilarious witnessing Nobby thrown into the action packed world of Bond, but equally it’s great to see the ultra-straight Sebastian indoctrinated into the slobbery of Grimsby’s loveable football hooligans. While most of the gags are fairly conventional fair, occasionally Cohen ups the stakes with especially gross results. Without giving too much away, let’s just say they involve testicles, elephants, semen and sucking. It’s not refined or cleverly orchestrated humour, but you’d have to be a right boring old prude not to find yourself sniggering uncontrollably at these audacious moments. The shock value manages to match the obscene brilliance of that filthy and furious naked wrestling match in Borat.
The inevitable furore around Grimsby will be over its portrayal of the eponymous town. So called ‘Poverty Porn’ has become quite the talking point in the last few years, and Grimsby will find itself right at the heart of the debate. Superficially the film looks to promote a mercilessly negative image of the working class. On closer inspection, Grimsby’s repulsive, self-proclaimed “scum” are too far removed from reality to even loosely be confused with society. Cohen is no idiot, and just as he as he did with Staines and Kazakhstan, he’s once again revelling in heightened reality and mythmaking. Ultimately, Grimsby could be set in any unfashionable English town – Hull, Scunthorpe or Preston – it just so happens to be the name itself evokes bleakness and also works superbly within a pun of The Brothers Grim – the loose basis of the plot.
There’s more to Grimsby than just irresistibly daft jokes though. The action sequences are refreshingly slick and innovative as they mix the elaborate set pieces of Bond and Bourne with a Call of Duty style first person perspective. Explosions, shootouts and car chases are ten a penny these days so director Louis Leterrier’s video game inspired vision evades the usual hackneyed action clichés.
The most basic and effective measure of a comedy film’s success is how funny it is. A few years back researchers, hard at work solving pressing world issues, worked out the funniest films through laughs per minute. Borat came fifth with 1.7 laughs per minute, while Airplane! rightfully topped the list with 3 laughs per minute. Grimsby doesn’t quite match up to Borat’s mockumentary brilliance, but at its joyously silly best it matches up with Ali G in Da House for sheer laughs. It’s not big and it’s certainly not clever, but Sacha Baron Cohen has made a shamelessly funny film with Grimsby.
8/10 – Nobby’s Nuts