When he’s on sparkling form, Sacha Baron Cohen cuts to the bone with surgical precision in the guise of his faux naive alter egos.
Streetwise voice of “da yoof” Ali G, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev and flamboyant Austrian fashion reporter Bruno Gehard were comic creations par excellence, who gleefully held up a mirror to the ugly faces of bigotry and intolerance.
Their outlandish interactions with unsuspecting celebrities and members of the public were pure genius.
Alas, global recognition means Cohen can no longer pull off that kind of devilish hoodwinkery and he has resorted to traditional scripted comedy, which has exposed his limitations as a writer and performer.
He scrapes the bottom of a very deep and grubby barrel in Grimsby, a wilfully offensive crime caper in the mould of James Bond that cocks its leg and urinates wildly over political correctness.
Laughs are in pitifully short supply amidst a tsunami of body fluids and garish class stereotypes, washed down with a sticky trickle of gags about paedophilia, Aids and drug addiction.
Cohen plays Nobby Butcher, a football hooligan with monstrous sideburns, who lives in Grimsby with his sex-crazed girlfriend Lindsey (Rebel Wilson) and 11 obscenity-spewing children, whose names include Skeletor and Django Unchained.
“At your age, you should just be vaping,” he tells a 10-year-old fruit of his loins.
For 28 years, Nobby has been separated from his younger brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), unaware that his sibling has become a debonair secret agent with the Tiger Tail Unit of MI6.
Their awkward reunion unfolds at a press conference, where a hulking Ukrainian thug called Pavel (Scott Adkins) assassinates the director of the World Health Organisation and Sebastian is framed for the crime.
The brothers go on the run, aided by Sebastian’s simpering MI6 handler, Jodie (Isla Fisher).
Rival agent Chilcott (Sam Hazeldine) is dispatched to terminate the rogue asset and the brothers lie low in the eponymous northern seaport - twin city to Chernobyl - with Nobby’s beer-swilling pals (John Thomson, Ricky Tomlinson, Johnny Vegas).
Grimsby is lewd, crude and poorly structured, ricocheting between frenetic action sequences and heart-tugging flashbacks to Nobby and Sebastian’s childhood.
A jaw-dropping centrepiece sequence involving an engorged elephant member takes Cohen’s enduring fascination with genitalia to a new nadir, while the film’s depiction of the titular community as a wasteland of council houses crammed with “working class scum”, benefit scroungers and pint-sized tearaways, leaves an equally bitter taste in the mouth.
Wilson and Fisher are squandered in thankless supporting roles.
During a pivotal fight, Strong’s resourceful agent repels evil henchmen with a blast from a fire hose.
By the end of Leterrier’s unsavoury film, we also need a soaking to wash off the stink of Cohen’s brand of mean-spirited and stomach-churning humour.