Grimsby (15)

two stars

Dir: Louis Leterrier

With: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher

Runtime: 83 minutes

IN the internet age one might have thought that Sacha Baron Cohen would have given up the comedy movie lark. After all, when you can access off-colour jokes and the random musings of space cadets for free, why bother paying the price of a cinema ticket?

That presumably occurred to Baron Cohen too, which is perhaps why he has taken such drastic measures in Grimsby to make audiences sit up and take notice. Yes, the creator of Borat and Bruno is out to out-gross the internet, to take outrage levels beyond the cyber-sphere, to make provocateurs everywhere look like good citizens of the highest order. Are you buying it?

If so, you will need a very strong stomach. In bad taste barely begins to describe some of the scenes. Consider yourself warned as we move on to the story, or what there is of one.

Baron Cohen plays Nobby Grimsby from, er, Grimsby. Nobby has nine children, lives on an estate where sofas are parked in front gardens, where hardly anyone works and where everyone is morbidly obese. Think Shameless to the power of a million.

But Nobby loves his family, he truly does, especially the missus (Rebel Wilson), and he cherishes his community. He also loves his brother, Seb, even though he has been missing for decades. Nobby never knew what became of his little brother after their mother died, but he has never stopped pining for him.

Cut to London and the dashing Agent Sebastian Grimsby (Mark Strong) is on manoeuvres as a spy. You are way ahead of me here, aren’t you? Yes, Seb is Nobby’s long lost brother and the two about to be reunited by the most outrageous and convoluted means possible. Do not even attempt to make sense of the plot; it is merely there to serve the gags.

Yes, about those gags. There are, it must be said, some funny moments in Grimsby. When the script, by Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph) and Peter Baynham (Borat, Alan Partridge, Bruno) is being plain old daft there are smiles and gasped laughter to be had. Baron Cohen is a natural born, hugely gifted comedian, no doubt about it.

But then there is the other material, the scenes in which an idea is driven up to the boundary of bad taste and taken 100 miles further. Now, there is definitely a market for gross out humour, and those who will likely go to see Grimsby know if they are a customer or not. Even so, this is comedy that does not so much make you laugh until you are sick as leave you feeling plain old nauseated.

Then there is the matter of all the grim up north (England) material. It is meant to be ironic, of course. To show that the film is in on the joke, it stars Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson, both proud working class performers. And to hammer home that we know the writers’ hearts are in the right place, that there is nothing snooty going on here, there is praise of community, solidarity, and all that good stuff. Fair brings a tear to the eye. Heaven knows what they will make of all this in the American market.

What really disappoints, however, is the overall quality of the comedy on offer. This is lazy stuff. Instead of toying with cliches and discarding them, the picture ends up embracing them as much as any old club comic from the 1970s. Jokes about fat people, bodily functions, blocked toilets; bring on the frilly shirts and velvet suits. Hardly dangerous, cutting edge fare, is it?

It is possible to frighten the horses and bring home the gags. Chris Morris showed how in Four Lions, a comedy about jihadists that was genuinely daring and funny besides. Grimsby, in comparison, is thin gruel, emphasised by its running time of under 90 minutes. This is smash and grab comedy, fast food funnies, only some of which hits the spot.