Review: Grimsby (2016)


Is it possible to be objective about a film that makes you laugh until you cry? That’s the conundrum I face when trying to offer an assessment of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Grimsby. By all measures, it’s not a good film. The plot is a generic Bond knock-off and the humour is aggressively crass, juvenile, and even monstrous at times. Director Louis Leterrier uses his usual B-list Paul Greengrass style to shoot the film. He over-cuts during the action sequences and never finds a shot he can’t wash the colours out of or a scene he can’t depict entirely as a series of handheld close-ups. There’s no nuance or subtly to the storytelling or filmmaking or humour of Grimsby.

And yet, I can’t remember laughing harder at a film in recent years.

Perhaps it’s that I do enjoy juvenile humour; I still rewatch Jim Carrey films from the 1990s (yes, even the one where he talks with his butt) and found The Interview to be one of the funnier collaborations between Seth Rogen and James Franco. Perhaps it’s that I have an appreciation for Baron Cohen’s antics, from the brilliant satire of Borat to the aggressive stupidity of The Ali G Show and even find Bruno pretty hilarious. Here he plays Nobby Butcher, a drunken, oafish football hooligan from Grimsby, England, who has way too many children and an affection for plump women. He got separated from his brother as a child and has been searching for him his whole life. It turns out his brother is a top British spy played by Mark Strong. Nobby finds him, botches his operation, and ends up working with his brother to stop a nefarious plot to infect a bunch of people with a fatal virus during the FIFA World Cup Finals.

I describe the plot, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters are the gags. They are hideously vile and yet I couldn’t help but collapse into hysteric gulps of laughter while watching them. One gag I had heard about at least a year before I saw the film, during an interview with Baron Cohen on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Maron spoke with a mixture of awe and disgust about a dick joke in Grimsby that requires Nobby to suck poison out of his brother’s genitals. It took the joke about male siblings being uncomfortable with physically expressing their affection for each other to absurd, sickening extremes. Another joke involves hiding inside animal genitals and an animal orgy (to say more wouldn’t necessarily ruin the joke, but the bold monstrosity of having it unfold rapidly before your eyes makes the humourous assault even better.)

As I said, these jokes are vile beyond comprehension, but I can’t help but find them hilarious. Perhaps Grimsby is a terrible film and I’m a terrible person for finding humour in the disgusting extents that Baron Cohen and company will go to to get a laugh from an audience. But when most modern comedies are content with modest, verbal jokes that amount to comedic paper cuts, I appreciate that Baron Cohen goes for the jugular with his humour, wanting to cut you open and let the laughs spill out, even if he makes you vomit while doing so.

That kind of comedic intensity is remarkable to behold. It’s disgusting, ungainly, and offensive to every shred of decency a person may have. But it’s remarkable all the same.

6 out of 10

Grimsby (2016, UK/USA)

Directed by Louis Leterrier; written by Sacha Baron Cohen and Phil Johnston, based on a story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, and Phil Johnston; starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Isla Fisher, Gabourey Sidibe.