A send-up of super-spy Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Jean Dujardin), aka OSS 117, the foreigner-fighting, Cold War hero of the popular de Gaulleera novels by Jean Bruce. Sent on the trail of a microfilm that could compromise the French government, OSS 117 fumbles merrily through Brazil, here a bossa-nova dreamland of bikini-clad women, perma-tanned foreign agents and pesky, gun-wielding 'Chinamen' (as he calls them). OSS 117 is in hot pursuit of a Nazi blackmailer, and in collaboration with a rather-hotherself Mossad agent. To call this Frenchman a "fish out of water" would be to assume he realises that the pool has a border beyond the island bar.
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: Once upon a time the world was put in order by a league of spies who had style. They knew how to drink a cocktail, seduce a model, and drive over the limit. They also knew how to dress for dinner.
This is the screen world sent up mercilessly in this the sequel to the 2008 French hit OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of spies. A parody of Cold War Eurospy thrillers and 60’s James Bond pictures, the style here is like a cross between movie-send-ups like Flying High and Mel Brooks’ genre-busting comedies, only with a sneaky, somewhat dark agenda, smuggled in between a lot of silliness. The title refers to the codename for Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Jean Dujardin), an agent with France’s Office of Strategic Services.
With his Brylcreamed hair, natty-suits, and know-it-all smirk, French comic Dujardin looks like Sean Connery’s Gallic cousin. But in the tradition of Maxwell Smart, de La Bath is a dim bulb with a bright smile. The plot has our hero team up with a Mossad agent, Dolores (Louise Monot) in the search for a Nazi, Zimmel (Alex Lutz), in Rio. De La Bath is worried about the fact that Zimmel is trying to blackmail France with a list of former Nazi collaborators ('it must be a small list," de La Bath ponders earnestly). Meanwhile Mossad wants to return Zimmel to Israel for his crimes ('what crimes?" wonders de La Bath).
Director Michel Hazanavicus’ comedic attack in the OSS-117 pictures has been compared to Mike Myers’ Austin Powers series, which is a little misleading. No matter how smart-arse aggressive Myers got, you never had the feeling that the movies’ little satirical teeth were sharp enough to draw blood. Austin Powers was cute and funny, but OSS–117 takes the cruel indifference of 007 and moulds it into a black farce of murder, racism and thoughtless 'heroism’. Still, there’s definitely plenty of film-fan in-jokes here. The movie captures the pastel opulence of mid 60s big screen studio pics – the over-sized sets, the deliberately artificial 'glam’ look, the absurd obsession with name brand consumerism and celebration of jet-set lifestyles (when our heroes arrive in Rio for a meeting at CIA HQ, they’re served cocktails!) If you reckon obvious back-projection is ticklish you’re gonna laugh hard, 'cos in this movie it’s everywhere!
Like the Zucker brothers/Abrahams and Mel Brooks, the OSS-117 movies know that the joke quotient has got to be high, because the plot and characters have zip emotional grip. They’re merely figures to play with and Hazanavicus and co. produce some dazzling throwaway gags. I particularly like the send-ups of conventional 'spy cool’ – in one bit de La Bath speeds to an urgent rendezvous. Instead of parking with ease and leaping out of his convertible our 'stylish’ secret agent spies a car space and then spends what seems like an exhausting amount of screen time executing an elaborate and tricky three-point park.That’s a very Austin Powers kind of 'movie-gag’ but Myers’ sub-PC irreverence doesn’t seem to extend beyond pop culture targets.
The key to OSS – 117, its sting, is that de La Bath is a crude symbol of Colonial French cultural imperialism, circa the late 50s. He’s oblivious to all sensitivities, race, creed, and gender. At the beginning of the movie he’s seducing a Chinese countess. When she complains of 'Reds’, he corrects her: 'yellows".
Hazanavicus and co-scenarist Jean Francois Halin use Dolores as a foil for de La Bath’s foot-in-mouth disease. Most of the action is visual, rather than verbal (the humour is that unique brand of Gallic fun which is somewhere between a sophisticated appreciation of the audience’s smarts melded with the straight to the get pleasure of watching attractive people through themselves at pieces of furniture). Occasionally there’s some wry dialogue that suggests a modest ambition to undermine the heroic clichés – and the savage arrogance that underwrites them – of both cinematic spies and real ones. (After all, not so long ago France awarded its highest prize for heroism to the team who sank the Rainbow Warrior, and killed an innocent man in the process).
At one point Dolores casts some doubt on how quick on the up take 117 actually is. She challenges him by complaining he wouldn’t know a dictatorship if he fell over one: 'What do you call a country with a military leader," she asks, 'a secret police, one TV station and censorship?" De La Bath, no fool, shoots back triumphantly: 'France"¦de Gaulle’s France!" Austin Powers was never quite that smart.