Is Sacha Baron Cohen a one-hit wonder? That’s a strange question to ask about someone who was introduced to us through a TV show where he played three different characters. But on the big screen, Cohen hasn’t had consistent success with all of his crazy characters. His newest film, Grimsby, looks to further this trend. The comedy about a poor British idiot (Cohen) and his secret agent brother (Mark Strong) has gotten poor reviews and is expected to take in less than $10 million this weekend.
The “one-hit” I would be referring to was 2006’s Borat, which not only pulled in tons of money, but was well liked critically. However since then, Cohen hasn’t come close to replicating its success. 2009’s Bruno and 2012’s The Dictator had their moments and were minor box office successes, but still nowhere near what Borat was. And Grimsby looks to be his worst film, critically and commercially. Why can’t Cohen recreate the magic of Borat?
Borat was not Cohen’s first movie. In 2002 he made Ali G Indahouse, featuring one of his famous characters, Ali G. The movie was never released theatrically in the United States so it’s likely you’ve never even heard of it. But even before Ali G Indahouse, Cohen was known for Da Ali G Show, which originated in Great Britain but would later air on HBO in the U.S.
Da Ali G Show featured not only the character Ali G, but Borat and Bruno as well. What made Da Ali G Show so great was not the zany characters though. The best part of the show was when of the characters would interact with real people in the world. One of the characters would secure an interview with some unsuspecting idiot by acting like some small TV reporter or journalist. The comedy would come from not necessarily the actions of Cohen, but the reactions from these real people.
This format is what made Borat such a hit. He traveled around the U.S. pretending to be an ignorant foreigner but in the end turned the joke on the regular people he met along the way. So why couldn’t Cohen just keep on doing this? He tried. Bruno was done the same way but the results weren’t the same.
But to really know why, you can look back to his first movie, Ali G Indahouse. It was an entirely fictional story. It ended up relying too much on the Ali G character and really wasn’t as funny as the TV show or Borat. Without the uncomfortable real life situations, Cohen’s comedy just wasn’t as strong. And after Bruno, Cohen had to switch up the formula.
First of all, he had no more characters to pull from so he had to create some new ones. Admiral General Aladeen wasn’t too bad of a start either. But Cohen was a big star and recognizable even when in character. He wasn’t going to be able to get gold from poor unsuspecting idiots anymore so he had to actually create a story for his character, just like he did in Ali G Indahouse. And just like Ali G Indahouse, the movie was hit or miss.
I’m still a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. His work in other people’s movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Hugo was fantastic. I still think he’s a great comedic actor. His memorable scene from Eastbound and Down is proof of that.
I’m just thinking that maybe he shouldn’t be writing his own comedies anymore. I hope he proves me wrong though. Borat is still an all-time classic and I hope that Sacha Baron Cohen will top it someday.