OSS 117 is a French institution, predating James Bond by four years and still hugely popular. Subject of 265 novels and 10 films, he’s Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an American from Louisiana who works for the French intelligence agency OSS as well as the CIA. A dashing spy, his adventures were largely serious affairs, but more than a decade after the the last new novel or movie, he was brought back.
If you’ve seen “The Artist”, you’ll have an idea of just how talented the three main people behind this movie are, how funny, and how incredibly skilled at giving a movie the flavour of another time. Director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo resurrected the character of OSS 117 and made two films, of which this is the first, followed a year later by “Lost In Rio”.
It’s so funny! Genuinely laugh-out-loud funny throughout, with Dujardin showing his Oscar a few years later was thoroughly deserved. OSS 117 is sent to Cairo to look into the death of his former “best friend” and fellow OSS agent Jefferson, and takes over his front organisation, a chicken farm of some sort (the light gag is so perfectly played) and while spending a lot of time on the chicken business, he tries to promote France’s interests, find a boat full of guns, stop an evil splinter group of Muslims, and generally save the day.
The sheer quality and rate of the jokes in this movie is incredibly surprising. Spy parodies (think “Get Smart”) seem to believe that just having an old character in the modern day is hilarious, but not only does “Cairo, Nest Of Spies” do a fantastic job of recreating the look and feel of the old Eurospy movies of the 1960s, it packs in funny bit after funny bit. A lot of it comes from Dujardin – he’s a bit of a chauvinist, is bizarrely in awe of the French president of the time (who was a famous dullard, apparently), and has zero respect for or knowledge of the cultures he’s been put in (despite being called an expert in “Arabo-Muslim affairs”, when talking to Bejo about Islam, he says of the 1500 year old religion “you’ll get bored of it, it won’t last long”). Despite being captured and seemingly thrown to his death, he never once loses his calm and overpowering self-belief.
Considering it’s got a plot, two great central characters and a large number of brilliant supporting ones (the Princess who falls for OSS 117, the guy who’s trailing our hero) it manages to pack in an almost “Airplane” level of jokes, sight gags and bizarre situations. And one of the villains is Belgian! Yes! SCREW YOU BELGIUM *
It’s seriously one of the best comedies I’ve seen in years, and that’s with (presumably) missing some of the subtleties of dialogue and specifically French references. Dujardin is incredibly good, the looks of a young Sean Connery crossed with the the comic ability of a prime Will Ferrell. Hazanavicius’ direction is just spot-on. There is absolutely nothing to criticise, which feels weird for this site. Watch it immediately, or sooner.
Rating: thumbs up