Running time: 83 minutes
Sacha Baron Cohen has had a varied film career. It started with a whimper thanks to Ali G Indahouse, took in an Oscar nomination for Borat before wobbling with Brüno and The Dictator.
Grimsby is new terrain for writer/star Cohen. It’s exactly the kind of white-knuckle comedy you’d expect, but delivered as a slick Hollywood action vehicle. He plays Nobby Butcher, a Liam Gallagher-alike Grimsby Town fan whose reunion with his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), an MI6 hitman, throws him into a daring mission to save the world. Imagine a Bond movie where it’s bring-your-idiot-brother-to-work day for 007 and you’re on the right track.
Don’t worry about those dicey looking trailers: once Grimsby gets its spy movie set-up out of the way it’s easily Cohen’s funniest film since Borat. This is a lightning-quick 83 minutes that’s stuffed with gags and surprisingly brutal when it comes to bone-crunching action scenes. That’s down to Louis Leterrier, the director behind shoot ’em ups like The Transporter, but Cohen never lets that get in the way of riotous laughter.
Permanently clad in an early 90s England shirt, his dad-of-nine Nobby sticks out like a sore thumb as the action dashes from London to South Africa, Chile and, of course, the titular fishing town. He clumsily threatens to scupper the mission at every turn; breaking his little’s brother’s ankle, accidentally injecting him with heroin and seducing a maid played by Gabourey Sidibe instead of Annabelle Wallis’s femme fatale.
Grimsby is at its funniest, though, when it unleashes good old fashioned base humour. Firework rockets get lodged up arses, poison is orally extracted from delicate areas and one scene involving elephants might just be the funniest thing you’ll see in a movie all year – proper tears-streaming-down-your-face hilarious that justifies the price of admission alone.
Cohen is as good as you’d expect him to be, but special notice needs to be given to Strong, who finds himself on the end of most of the best punchlines. There’s something great about seeing the stoic, brooding thriller mainstay embrace the slapstick again and again. You’ll never be able to see Strong in the same light after this.
What’s most surprising about Grimsby is how soft its centre is underneath the crude gags. Deep down, it’s a film about family and celebrating the ordinary, less-than average bloke. The film’s pre-release chatter had Nobby pegged as a football hooligan, but that’s off the mark – he’s far more endearing and likeable than that. Cohen and Strong’s odd couple act ends up working a treat and gives Grimsby a beating heart to match its gut-busting laughs.
Consider this a much-welcome return to form for the comedy mastermind behind Ali G and Borat.