Dir. Louis Leterrier, Script. Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnson, Peter Baynham
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson & Penelope Cruz
Plot: An MI6 agent (Strong) is forced to go into hiding after his long lost brother (Cohen) ruins a mission.
In Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest comedy, he proves to the world that he’s lost the fire of his early days playing Ali G. Grimsby is not totally unfunny; with Baron Cohen attempting to fire quips at the rate of a machine gun a couple are bound to hit the target. But for the most part, this mercifully, unbelievably short film (at 83 minutes more closely resembling a TV episode) does nothing to suggest that Baron Cohen is back to his best, and ends up being more of an exploitation of Northern England than a cinematic experience.
Baron Cohen’s latest character, Nobby, should really be of the Borat & Co. ilk – a caricature of a media prejudice flipped over to reveal the prejudiced people in society. But there’s painfully little satire here; to be honest, I’m not really sure if that was his intention, because with the exception of a single, intended-to-be-rousing speech about how the poor are looked down upon, there’s no satire to be found. This is probably Baron Cohen’s straightest comedy, most unoriginal character, and his film most devoid of wit – the humour mainly comes from cheap slapstick. Even when some of his jokes bring a flash of how funny Baron Cohen can be, they weren’t able to lift Grimsby from being a by-the-numbers action comedy.
Another trouble I’ve got with this is that the production feels awfully rushed. I wouldn’t be surprised if principal photography took a fortnight – Penelope Cruz for instance, who plays quite a central character in the narrative, has about 3, maybe 4 minutes screen time, which could have all been shot in two days tops. Same goes for Rebel Wilson, who gets typecast once again as ‘the fat one’ – its roles like these that stop Wilson from breaking out as a bona fide comic superstar. The only actor other than Baron Cohen to have major screen time is Mark Strong, who must have some incredible dirt that he wants to keep under wraps because the only reason I can come up with for Strong agreeing to star in this is blackmail. Sure, he gets a couple of action sequences (filmed mainly on a GoPro in the hope that it would increase the rawness of the action, but actually working to the opposite effect), but for such a reliable and hard-working actor, it feels really weird to see Strong lowering himself to this.
Now You See Me director Louis Leterrier offers nothing in the way of visual cleverness to help the film, while its plot is the definition of lazy spy movie. Admittedly, Baron Cohen and Strong have a tiny bit of chemistry, and Grimsby isn’t completely without humour. Actually, a couple of jokes are actually serious laugh out loud moments, and even though the slapstick is cheap and often completely disgusting, it at least provokes some kind of reaction. And as previously mentioned, with a runtime so short the film flies by. But unless you’re a fan of movies which involve the line ‘It’s an elephant bukkake party!’ (No, I’m not kidding – No, I won’t describe it – No, I can’t unsee it), then this hopelessly lazy action comedy won’t have anything for you.
THE FOREST (Icon)
Dir. Jason Zada, Script. Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Cast: Natalie Dormer
Plot: When her twin sister (Dormer) is reported entering a forest famous for suicides in Japan, Sarah (Dormer as well) goes to find her in the belief she is still alive.
It’s a common tradition in America that the movie released on the first weekend of the New Year is a horror movie, and a bad one at that: The Forest, which was chosen to be 2016’s first release in the United States, offers no change to the usual, despite the UK distribtors attempting to fool us by dropping it a couple of months into the year. Jason Zada’s horror takes what is actually a pretty decent premise and set-up, and doesn’t offer it justice – despite giving it a good bit of effort, The Forest is proof that a stupid character (or characters, in this case) can break a movie instantly.
So let’s start with our main character, namely Sarah, who goes into the Aokigahara Forest to search for her sister, is absolutely brain-dead. Throughout the film, she (as well as us – the dialogue is exposition masquerading as dialogue) is repeatedly reminded of the dangers of the forest, and precisely what not to do while in there. However, the film entirely revolves around her defying these warnings. In fact, the whole plot is moved along by her total, almost contagious idiocy, and when the film tries to stray into darker and more complex territory, we’re constantly reminded that the character we need to invest in to care about it is insanely dumb.
It’s a shame that Sarah is such a badly written character, because Natalie Dormer’s actually not bad at all: the Game of Thrones actress is definitely game, and thanks to a clever idea which allows her to play both Sarah and her suicidal twin sister Jess, the best part of the film is given something to do. Dormer doesn’t get much time as Jess, but in the scenes where she plays against herself she’s able to create two distinguishable characters, albeit moronic ones. Overall, the scare factor isn’t too great though, despite a couple of mildly effective jump scares and a decent psychological angle to the story which director Jason Zada actually handles quite well.
The problem is purely down to the writing – Dormer’s character (as well as a reporter who stays with her, played by Taylor Kinney in a performance that lives up to the film’s title) is only put into trouble because of her impossibly stupid decisions. Knowing that, its impossible to be afraid for Sarah and afraid of The Forest in general – no matter what the scare would have been, the fact that all these problems were easily avoidable meant that I physically couldn’t get scared during the movie. And once I got to the ending, which is not only bemusing bur contrived, as well as rushed, I was completely taken out of what should have been an absorbing horror film. Zada and Dormer are definitely trying here, but they – and nobody else for that matter, not even ACADEMY AWARD WINNING ACTOR (sorry: felt like saying it) Leonardo DiCaprio – can’t do anything with The Forest‘s fatally flawed screenplay.