In Review

Grimsby: 'two fingers up at Benefits Street pity porn'

Sacha Baron Cohen's spy film mixes 'gleeful comic set-pieces' with 'action worthy of Jason Bourne'

Sacha Baron Cohen's spy comedy Grimsby opens in the UK this week – will it do for the north of England what Borat did for Kazakhstan?

The action comedy, known as The Brother's Grimsby in the US, is directed by Now You See Me's Louis Leterrier and co-written by Baron Cohen, who stars alongside wife Isla Fisher and a cast featuring Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane.

Grimsby tells the story of British black-ops spy Agent Sebastian Grimsby (Strong), who must team up with his long-lost brother Nobby (Baron Cohen) to foil an evil plot by rich villains to rid the world of the working classes.

It has been met with mixed responses from the critics.

This "globe-trotting gross-out caper" satirises the establishment with "ribald and corrosive glee", says Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph. The jokes are never at the expense of northerner Nobby and the script "keeps punching in the right direction – that's upwards".

While it's never as devastating as Baron Cohan's films Borat or Bruno, "it's a vital, lavish, venomously profane two fingers up at Benefits Street pity porn". Collins adds: "I laughed, winced, gagged, then laughed even more."

It certainly takes the grim out of Grimsby, says Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. The film could easily have seemed patronising and caricatured in its use of northern stereotypes but instead, "it combines gleeful comic set-pieces with action sequences worthy of Jason Bourne".

For all of its Viz-like humour and delight in obscenity, he adds, "this is also a family movie: a rousing, feel-good tale of a Grimsby everyman taking on and beating the world".

Indeed, says Dave Calhoun in Time Out, fears that Grimsby might poke fun at the likes of Nobby disappear when you realise he's "just an excuse to catapult a clown, any clown would do, into scenarios as far-flung and unlikely as a South African game reserve, a World Health Organisation conference in London and a football final in Chile".

Grimsby is chaotic and crude and never far from a punchline involving genitals, admits Calhoun. "But its lack of sophistication, like its odd mix of souped-up action and base comedy, ultimately feels like a badge of honour."

But Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian says the film "basically defeated my attempts to like it", with Nobby feeling dated and off-target and his northern accent often missing the mark.

Grimsby has the occasional laugh and "a succession of finely wrought gross-out spectaculars which are reasonably entertaining", he admits, but the weird overall effect is like children's television "produced on a lavish scale with added filth".

Baron Cohen has had a brilliant run with his character comedy but "his unique talent needs to take another direction", concludes Bradshaw.

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