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Let’s deal with the worst news first. The screenplay for Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy Grimsby, co-written by him, is like a terrible accident. It’s as if the script truck had shed its load all over the road — or the audience — and the good ideas (a few) are mixed in unsalvageably with the bad.
There’s a howlingly silly international terrorism plot: world-hopping James Bondery with Cohen’s football-idiot northern-English hero Nobby taking on evil mastermind Penélope Cruz. There are celebrities goofing off in guest cameos, from Daniel Radcliffe to — timely at least — Donald Trump. And there are jokes about Grimsby, “twin city with Chernobyl”, that should travel about 100 miles from the British coast before expiring.
I did laugh once; twice; even two and a half times. The Fifa gag is good. (Shan’t spoil.) So is the mid-movie slapstick, gross-out and gonzo, involving Nobby, his brother (Mark Strong) and some copulating elephants. As surprise comic pachyderm packages go — let’s just say it goes.
Elsewhere, if you have hair, prepare to tear it now. Cohen really was funny, memory insists, doing his idiot-savant one-to-ones with luckless prey as Ali G, Borat, or even Brüno. But in the world’s talent-crowded laughter factory, there isn’t room for just another Britcom funnyman — feral yet unfocused — which is all we’re offered here. Nobby is an oaf with a fuzzy northern accent and Liam Gallagher side hair. (That cues the half-joke.) You wait all movie for the character’s zinger essence to come out but, unlike that of the elephants, it never quite does.