by Richard von Busack
OSS 117: Lost in Rio: Double-one-seven est de retour.
There are Bond geeks and then there are Bond geeks, but the makers of OSS 117: Lost in Rio (opening Friday) deserve an honorary doctorate in the studies of 007. Spoofs are what you get when you take on the broad outline of a genre. Real satire requires Slavoj Zizek-level interpretation about the contradictions in the material. And the OSS series—here’s a review of the first one—
is is a real satire. It adores the playfulness of the spy film era, but it doesn’t condone the whopping imperialism and sexism of it. Topped by the scintillating idiocy of Jean Dujardin, this invigorating new comedy shows the limits of a monotonous personality-fest such as the Austin Powers series.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio takes place almost a decade after the first film, though the hero hasn’t aged more than a day or two. Hippies, LSD and the swinging sixties infiltrate the world of France’s greatest secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Dujardin)…but saying that he notices anything on his periphery is an exaggeration. He’s a basically innocent ignoramus, but a suave one. Hubert is ordered to Brazil to retrieve a list of French collaborators from a blackmailing Nazi, the exiled German war criminal Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler).
It must be a short list, the agent decides, because De Gaulle himself said since so few Frenchmen collaborated with the Germans. Heading to the ur-1960s city of Brasilia, the sleek, patronizing smirker gets involved with an Israeli agent seeking to kidnap the Nazi back for trial in Tel Aviv. This will be rough, dealing with an Israeli partner (Louise Monot); Hubert muses aloud: “No alcohol, veiled women…”
Dujardin’s rare comic talent spins the seemingly didactic jokes into serious levity. He’s helped by his uncanny physical resemblance to the less appealing side of Sean Connery: the self-centeredness, the hairiness, the ever-twitching eyebrow and the really unfortunate swimwear. Agent “Double-one seven’s” mission is a fiesta of blown covers and cultural insensitivities as gross as a fois-gras belch. He’s used as a pawn by a contemptuous foul-mouthed CIA agent—a gargoyle version of Felix Leiter. During his leisure hours, he tries to pick up women with all the savoir-faire of Pepe Le Pew.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio probably isn’t a movie for anyone who can’t name all the Connery Bond films in order, without looking at a list. (The Venture Bros., the cartoon series that rivals this film for deep-focus satire, also seems to confuse the uninitiated.) Still, I found Dujardin very ticklish—what Inspector Clouseau movies would be like if they had timing and were about something.
I haven’t seen anything like Dujardin since Roberto Benigni was on his game, before the unfortunate success of Life is Beautiful; he’s adroit with quips and the low comedy; he’s a happy performer in Mad magazine style scenes we’d like to see, and he’s masculine enough to carry action-man moments, such as shooting a gator and attempting to roast it on a spit.
More rarefied humor comes from the way Michel Hazanavicius unearths skeletons of French foreign policy. The bravery of this kind of comedy gets underestimated. As is the case of America’s Cold War atrocities, France has loads of defenders for her own unsavory history—perhaps the defenders are more vociferous in France, even. Happily, Hubert has his moral limits. Stumbling across evidence of US collusion with the Nazi scientists, he’s shocked: “I thought Americans hated Nazis!” Comes the response “The CIA isn’t America!”
The change of era from the first films’ 1950s Africa to ‘60s Rio works elegantly. The music and swinging sixties décor, the art direction and cinematography, evoke that glorious era of trash…including a joke about split-screen taken to the ultimate fly’s-eye view. Equally pleasurable is a finale at the Christ of the Andres--probably not used in service for a spy movie since 1966’s Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die. One more of these OSS movies is proposed, and that should be about right amount of them: the natural thing seems to take Hubert into the 1970s, the era of baby-blue leisure-suited bell-bottomed Bond.