Nobby (Cohen) — a slobbish father of nine — who was separated from his brother Sebastian (Strong) during childhood discovers that Sebastian is now a spy. Following a series of Nobby-fuelled disasters, the two must work together to save the world.
Bad taste can be hilarious, shaking a laugh from even the most reserved, and opening minds to new worlds. But there are also tastes so bad they just make you retch. That’s Grimsby, a feature-length version of gross-out joke The Aristocrats that puts all its emphasis on shock and none on genuine provocation.
This is the most horrible thing to happen to elephants since White Hunter Black Heart.
As yob Nobby, Sacha Baron Cohen presents a stereotype of the working class to gladden a Tory heart. He drinks heavily, loves drugs, reproduces wildly and afflicts his offspring with appalling names. Portrayed with compassion, similar set-ups powered Rab C. Nesbitt and The Royle Family. But this film has no affection for its world, and pays only lip service to its virtues. Like Mark Strong’s stoic, Bond-alike secret agent, we’re expected to be horrified by all these apparently unemployed people and their disgraceful ways.
The plot makes no sense, although admittedly that’s standard in comedy. An assassination attempt against Penélope Cruz's philanthropist star — who has somehow come to prominence despite a wig that the cast of The Big Short would reject as unflattering — kicks off an international man-hunt. But even more shocking — we’re supposed to believe this happens in a world where England beats Brazil to reach a World Cup final. A terminal assault on our ability to suspend disbelief.
The outrageous, often stomach-turning jokes might work if they weren't so misanthropic. Nobby prefers large women to model types, which is apparently hysterical. There are endless scenes of gay panic (or at least, one scene that felt endless) and the dignified Strong is subject to all manner of humiliation and attack. With the exception of Cruz, the women are sexually voracious, mindlessly supportive, or both. The film is xenophobic and racist, revives AIDS as a joke, and is the most horrible thing to happen to elephants since White Hunter Black Heart.
Late on, Nobby musters a speech about the importance of those dismissed as “scum”. But they are the butt of the film’s very next joke, fatally undercutting any attempt at working-class solidarity. Despite all the bodily fluids, this is a deeply conservative film that champions family values, patriotism and mindless violence. It’s hard to imagine anything less daring.
It may occasionally shock a laugh from you, but between those moments your face will be a rictus of horror.