Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies

Illustration for article titled OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies

James Bond is such an outsized wish-fulfillment fantasy character that most people who don't want to be him (plus some who do) probably hate him. He gets all the hot girls and hot machines, he's always ready with a quip, and he seems to know everything, because it just isn't suave to be caught out as ignorant. Which may explain the proliferation of spy-movie parodies, from Get Smart to Top Secret! to The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe: on some lowbrow schadenfreude level, it's just plain fun to watch a Bond surrogate fuck up for once in his life.

Which explains the many joys of OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies, a slick genre parody that sends up '40s and '50s cinema in general, with a particular eye toward deflating the Bond mythos, and showing up him and his ilk as smug assholes. It opens as a pitch-perfect '40s war movie, with debonair French spy OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) and his partner (Philippe Lefebvre) fighting Nazis aboard a plane that's obviously a cheap toy prop. In 1955 (and now in crisp '50s Technicolor), Dujardin is assigned to take over Lefebvre's Cairo assignment and uncover who murdered him. Dujardin makes a perfect movie spy, with his buff body, rakish air, and compelling Clark Gable smirk. He never lets his profound ignorance get in his way; while navigating the generic spy-story plot twists, he puts his foot in his mouth every few moments with some vastly wrong-headed comment about Islam or Egypt. But whenever Lefebvre's buttoned-up Egyptian secretary (Bérénice Bejo), corrects him, he just flashes that utterly Bond-esque "I know better than you" smile and keeps rolling, so secure in his role as the good guy that it doesn't matter who's laughing at him.

Part of the fun of OSS 117 is the flawless aping of old movie conventions, from the costuming, sets, and editing to the drives through clumsily rear-screen-projected vistas. But mostly, the film bounces along on cheap but entertaining Mel Brooks-worthy audio and visual gags, like the live-chicken-throwing fight, or the sequence where the camera discreetly pans away from Dujardin and a partner making out on his hotel bed—only to focus on a full-length mirror in which they're still fully visible. It's Austin Powers humor without fake accents, gross-out jokes, or endless mugging. What's that leave? Mostly just repetition, double entendres, bad puns, and small comedic ambitions. But the packaging is perfect, and the end results beat A View To A Kill any day.