Monday, June 28, 2010

Film Review: Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

"Oss 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" *** (out of ****)

With the recent release of "Oss 117 - Lost in Rio" (2010) I wanted to go back and watch this "original" first released back in 2008.

I'm reluctant to use the term "original" because there have been other Oss 117 stories adapted to the screen. The first dates back to 1956, "O.S.S. 117 Is Not Dead". Several other adaptations have been made, one even starred American actor John Gavin.

When "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" first opened I was very anxious to see it however, I thought I had the film all figured out. It was going to be a James Bond-ish type of spoof. We've all been there and done that. But, luckily for the film, I'm still a fan of the spoof genre (I'm a big Mel Brooks fan). So the film intrigued me. I thought it would engage in a kind of wild farce humor. But then I learned about novelist Jean Bruce, who created this character and the other adaptations, and soon I become more interested.

"Oss 117" is exactly the kind of movie I was expecting. Though the film is set in the 1950s (1955 to be exact) it has a 1960s sex farce spirit. The younger viewers are going to associate it with the "Austin Powers" (1997) movie but us old timers, who know a little better, are going to recall "Casino Royale" (1966) and "The Pink Panther" (1963). In fact, if "Oss 117" had been made 40 years ago and in America, it would have probably starred Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards would have directed it.

Jean Dujardin stars as secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath AKA Agent Oss 117. I'm not familiar with Dujardin. I think this is the first time I've seen him in anything. But, to his credit, he seems to have been a perfect choice. At first glance he looks like a handsome, suave ladies man. His appearance oozes confidence and charm and then, well, he opens his mouth or begins to attempt to solve a case. And we learn, while he may have the looks of Cary Grant he has the mentality of Peter Sellers.

Oss 117 is sent to Cairo where a fellow secret agent, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) has gone missing. It is believed the Americans, Soviets and English may be part of a larger plot dealing with arms and Jefferson might have been on to something. Agent Oss 117 also takes on the case because Jefferson was his best friend, as we can see in flashbacks of the two of them standing together laughing.

When in Cairo Oss meets Larmina (Berenice Bejo) a secretary who will act as his aid. She is a Muslim and several jokes are made by Oss regarding this. He refuses to accept it as a true religion and mocks their ancient ways. "It's 1955, wake up" he declares. The other beautiful woman Oss meets is Princess Tarouk (Aure Atika). She is after some papers Oss took from her.

A lot of the humor comes from Oss 117's inability to understand what is going on around him. Clues go past him, he doesn't understand the culture, a lot of his Muslim jokes are meant to be funny because of what he know today and how far they have advanced. Surprisingly though I found the film light on slapstick comedy. It is mostly verbal wordplay and puns.

The film, which was directed by Michel Hazanavicious, was nominated for five Cesar Awards and did actually win one. And as I have already mentioned, did spark a sequel "Lost in Rio" and reportedly a third film is on the way.

If you like broad comedy and the spoof genre "Oss 117" should work nicely for you. I don't find it to be laugh out loud funny but I did have a pleasant time watching it. I like the spirit of the film and the playful suggestive nature of it. If there is one downfall to the film is it an unnecessary homosexual erotic vibe dealing with Oss and Jefferson's relationship. It doesn't seem consistent with the rest of the film and really sticks out. However, it is worth watching.