If you want some kind of context to understand the tone of Sasha Baron Cohen’s seminal (at least as far as elephants are concerned) new movie “Grimsby”, then know this: Rebel Wilson is an island of subdued subtlety amid the crass, lowbrow and profoundly tasteless shenanigans.
When Norman ‘Nobby’ Butcher, proud resident of Grimsby finally tracks down his long lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), he finds himself sucked in to a deadly world of international espionage and terrorism. Can the scum of the Earth save the world?
Ever the provocateur, Sasha Baron Cohen sets out to amuse and disgust in equal measure. He knows where the boundaries lie and he pushes past them. No, further…further. No, much, much further than that. And he knows exactly what he’s doing. There are nods to his influences (“South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” plays on the TV as a Cbeebies substitute for one of Nobby’s kids) throughout but, as usual with Baron Cohen, there’s a fiendishly sharp satire under the smut, sniggering homophobia and puerile, scatological humour. As with many of his other characters, Nobby’s world exists to lull the audience into revealing their prejudices and judgements only to ramp them up to an insanely offensive degree and feed them back to the audience. This time it’s the lazy, cruel stereotype of the benefits-dependant underclass which is skewered, twisted and spat back defiantly into the audience’s face.
There are parts of “Grimsby” which are more squirm-inducingly uncomfortable than amusing and there’s a lot in this film which will disgust and outrage instead of entertain (a running gag which involved Daniel Radcliffe and Donald Trump never really clicks) but make no mistake, there are many, many parts of this film which are side-splittingly, guiltily hilarious.
More than any other cast member – and the film has attracted an impressively diverse group of guest stars: Ian McShane, Penélope Cruz, Gabourey Sidibe, DavidHarewood (the likes of Johnny Vegas, Ricky Tomlinson and John Thompson are less of a shock) – Mark Strong is the MVP here. An unfeasibly good sport, he’s game for whatever Baron Cohen’s ridiculous, childish, ambitiously filthy script throws at him. He’s a bona fide action bad ass, giving the film a surprisingly strong action movie underpinning, helped enormously by experienced action/ adventure director Louis Leterrier, who shoots the whole thing totally seriously.
“Grimsby” will not sit well with everyone; ‘acquired taste’ really doesn’t cover it. It’s gross, stupid, vulgar and ridiculous but it’s also very, very funny. Definitely one for his fans, its cinematic future may be bleak but this will easily find its true home as a cult favourite and post-pub movie to eat your takeaway burger in front of. Just, you know, hold the mayo.