Anthony Horowitz, the latest author to be tasked with generating new James Bond novels, caused a furor by saying he thought Idris Elba was too “street” to play the famous fictional spy. But he was quick to say he’d prefer Adrian Lester, another black British actor, because “it’s not a color issue,” he insisted.
Maybe not, but it is an issue of class, which Horowitz spoke around using terms like “rough” and “suave.” Bond might be imperfectly aristocratic — when Vesper Lynd reads him in Casino Royale, she guesses that he didn’t come from money — but he’s learned to fake it, with the suits and the sangfroid, in a way Horowitz seemed to feel Elba, despite being suave as hell, could not.
Which is what makes the joke at the heart of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy The Brothers Grimsby such an enjoyable one, even when the film as a whole weaves between being just hilariously foul and incoherently sloppy. It takes fellow Bond deconstruction Kingsman: The Secret Service’s class consciousness to more outrageous extremes. The movie features a sleek, Bond-ish agent named Sebastian Butcher (Mark Strong), who to his horror is plunged back into contact with his gritty past and the brother, Nobby (Baron Cohen), he hasn’t seen in years.
The film’s warped version of former fishing town Grimsby is a place of grayish houses and shipping cranes
full of people who are on the dole and equally addicted to soccer and alcohol. It’s a vision of the working class out of an alarmist scold’s fondest dreams where people there name their many children things like “Django Unchained” and “Skeletor” and have home kebab machines. Once they’re reunited, Nobby — with his misspelled, patriotic tattoos; his Liam Gallagher haircut; his equally cartoonish girlfriend (Rebel Wilson); and his inability to maintain any kind of filter — clings insistently to Sebastian like a recurring rash.
— with his tasteful clothing, velvet voice, and workplace flirtation with the Moneypennyish Jodie Figgs (Isla Fisher) — recalls the iconic Bond who gallantly devoted his life to awesome adventures and international seductions for queen and country, then Nobby is a reminder that no one really conveniently springs fully formed from a national imagination.
The Brothers Grimsby, which was directed by The Transporter’s Louis Leterrier, doesn’t just obliterate Sebastian’s dignity again and again with gross-out set pieces involving elephant uteruses (elaborately, idiotically hilarious) and the sucking of poison out of body parts (gay panicky until it fully commits). It’s about how the only difference between the patrician secret agent and his forever drink-clutching football hooligan sibling are the advantages the former got when he was adopted by a London couple, and that “suave” and “rough” are designations as arbitrary as chance.