Director: Louis Letterier
England making it to the Soccer world cup finals in the year 2016 is not the most outlandish occurrence in Sascha Baron Cohen’s latest outing, GRIMSBY. This should be a competent explanation for just how shamelessly absurd this 2016 spy-caper is. For the soccer-uninitiated, however, the best way to formulate what Cohen has put onto celluloid can best be described as the most unfiltered piece of old school farcical gross-out comedy in years. The fact of the matter is simple: GRIMSBY isn’t so much a good film as it is one that warrants praise for going the extra mile. It knows what it wants, reaches for it with full force, throws the audience on a turbulent, sophomoric thrill ride for 80 minutes, and ejects them like a firework has been stuffed right up their buttholes. If that isn’t commitment to craft, then what is?
It should be pointed out that if anyone went to see GRIMSBY for a reason that doesn’t involve crushing hard on Cohen as a satirist (guilty), it’s probably because the film’s marketing campaign has been the most inventive concept since the release of the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Instead of sharing any of the (genuinely NSFW) comedic content on Facebook, GRIMSBY relied on filming Jimmy Fallon’s audience, The Rock, Zac Efron, and many more reacting to the film’s most ludicrous sequence. These faces of shock and awe were essentially the driving catalyst for the marketing campaign, which allowed for all of the actual on screen comedy to be kept a secret. Even if the gags would have been ineffective, this marketing ploy certainly worked in favor of getting people to see the film.
This is actually a still of Kimmel’s audience watching Young Messiah
For starters, what audiences need to wrap their minds around is that Cohen isn’t making another BORAT or BRÜNO, and he probably never will. GRIMSBY follows suit with his previous effort, THE DICTATOR, and as such his canon is steadily declining in quality. But what ought to be noted is that no Cohen film is a complete waste of time. THE DICTATOR ended with a surprisingly poignant discussion of America’s failures to respect cultural differences. Whilst GRIMSBY surely isn’t quite as profound in its message, it is a huge step up comically. If THE DICTATOR and GRIMSBY would have been packaged as one film, Cohen might have been standing on comedy gold.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t change what GRIMSBY does right. In a cinematic climate that’s populated with template heavy buddy cop comedies, GRIMSBY is fervently opposed to sticking to routine. Sparing the audience of the same 2nd act conclusion that viewers have seen time and time again, GRIMSBY doesn’t need the moments in which the two heroes hate each other, only to come back and take on their biggest challenge yet. Instead, the comedy goes straight for the jugular, and whilst its narrative is certainly not treading any new ground, it’s so eager to disgust its audience that the experience is a complete riot for anyone willing to subject themselves to the perversion.
Cohen’s comedic bravado is oft compared to the stylings of Peter Sellers, and for good reason. The same way Jim Carrey was the 90s response to the late comedian’s passing in 1980, Cohen filled that void when Carrey virtually fell off the map by the late 2000s. All of these actors certainly entertained a complete dedication to their characters in their prime, playing with characterization to an unprecedented degree. This was certainly seen in BORAT with Cohen, and GRIMSBY still maintains much of his passion for slipping into someone’s skin. Consequently, the comedy in GRIMSBY, although maybe not as consistently funny as its espionage-parody-peer, SPY, feels more genuinely ardent to provide laughs that don’t rely on talking head improvisation.
Yes, there are things GRIMSBY does poorly. In fact, there’s a lot that it could have spent more time fine-tuning, but for a film that’s 90% butt humor, it’s abnormally competent filmmaking. Editing is occasionally clunky and action scenes are mostly filler in order to lead up to the next gag, but when comparing GRIMSBY to buddy cop contemporary 22 JUMP STREET, what can be said in its favor is that at least a handful of gags are so impressionable in their absurdity that GRIMSBY will ultimately be the more memorable of the two. In reality, the only sequence that one can hold against GRIMSBY is its 3rd act finale, a grand action set piece that blatantly copies the climax of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, down to the visual gag of a character being impaled on a spiked helmet.
Legitimately one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a comedy since HOT FUZZ
When all’s said and done, there is no reason anybody has to go watch GRIMSBY. Yet at the same time, there’s something so unorthodox in its approach that it merits a gander. Contemporary comedy is so heavily reliant on verbal brawls that farce has all but died in mainstream cinema. With a handful of directors keeping this style alive, GRIMSBY represents the perfect archetype of a film that is only good because so much comedy these days is bad. If one needs a break from rhetoric-reliant comedy, then GRIMSBY is perhaps exactly the unapologetic gross-out palette cleanser that can serve as a reminder for where comedy is able to transport viewers.