OSS 117: Lost In Rio

OSS 117: Lost In Rio

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

There are certain film genres that the French do better than anyone else, but I must admit I never thought I’d find myself adding ‘Sixties spy spoof’ to the list.

Parodying the Bond films and their innumerable imitators is always a tricky task, as they have a built-in element of self-parody already. But as the Cold War ended and stereotyping foreigners, women or indeed anyone unfortunate enough not to be a Connery-esque superbeing suddenly became a bit non-PC, Mike Myers struck gold with his lovingly recreated Sixties relic Austin Powers. Alas, he finally ran out of steam (top pre-credits sequence notwithstanding) with the crass and scatological Goldmember. Get Smart singularly failed to fill the gap as an American replacement and as for keeping the British end up you have to go all the way back to... er, Carry On Spying.

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Then along came OSS 117: Cairo - Nest of Spies and lovers of pastel leisurewear and innuendo-laden quips rejoiced anew. Director Hazanavicius and star Dujardin perfectly captured the genre’s mix of deadly serious dialogue and increasingly ludicrous plot developments as well as having a lot of fun with some of the cultural presumptions of late-colonial era France. It was a real breath of fresh air and so successful critically and commercially that it’s warranted a sequel. Inevitably, everything seems a little less fresh and original this time around but the team’s eye for a good sight gag and ear for an unwittingly crass pronouncement remains intact, as does their intimate knowledge of, and obvious affection for, the movies they’re sending up.

Once again Dujardin plays Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, aka agent OSS 117, a French version of 007 created in a series of novels by the writer Jean Bruce. The original books (and several Fifties movies about the character) played him absolutely straight, a heroic superspy defending French security around the globe in the aftermath of the Second World War. But as with Bond (and Bulldog Drummond, who underwent a similar ‘re-imagining’ in a couple of underrated but rather groovy Ralph Thomas-directed Sixties spoofs, Deadlier Than The Male and Some Girls Do) there’s a lot of fun to be had in puncturing the smug certainty and self-regard of a character who’s accomplished at everything – and very, very aware of the fact.

So, from the start, as the hero survives a gun battle in a ski chalet to be immediately sent to Rio to track down a Nazi war criminal, Dujardin deadpans his way through a series of increasingly preposterous, dignity-divesting plot twists with an epic sense of self-assurance.

Once again the period detail is lovingly recreated (they’ve even managed to track down a facsimile of the towelling romper suit that Connery wore in the Miami beach scenes of Goldfinger) and the dodgy back projection and arty split-screen camera work are all present and correct.

Some of the gags are a bit more laboured this time – once in Rio, 117 teams up with a group of Mossad agents including the (naturally) beautiful Israeli colonel Dolores Koulechov (Monot), triggering a series of riffs on the theme of ‘Jewish humour’ – some of which, it has to be said, work a lot better than others. But, as with Myers or Mel Brooks, there’s a carpet bombing approach to humour which means that if a gag falls flat there’s sure to be another one along soon. And some – a Krautrock-tinged rendition of The Girl From Ipanema, an extended episode where our heroes, marooned after a plane crash, have to survive in a very unconvincing stretch of ‘hostile jungle’ – are right on the money.

The supporting cast are all sufficiently in on the joke – particularly Vogler as the villain and Kherici as a mysterious Brazilian beauty (with a disconcerting resemblance to Amy Winehouse). And, as before, there is some attempt to make a serious point about 117’s outdated worldview and the realities of post-war espionage; the McGuffin here is a roll of microfilm containing a list of French collaborators, a subject even serious French cinema has tended to shy away from.

But the film’s primary raison d’etre is a commitment, rare in French cinema, to just be – well, a bit silly. By and large, it delivers, though I’d caution against trying to recreate this particular secret formula again. Having said that, the third Bond film WAS the best...

Reviewed on: 15 Jan 2010
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OSS 117: Lost In Rio packshot
A top French secret agent hunts a Nazi war criminal in Rio and meets a beautiful woman with an agenda of her own.
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Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Writer: Jean-François Halin, Jean Bruce

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Louise Monot, Rüdiger Vogler, Alex Lutz, Reem Kherici, Pierre Bellemare, Ken Samuels

Year: 2009

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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