With the possible exception of Casino Royale, the James Bond movies, vile as most of them are, may be seen as parodies of themselves, and until someone figures out a way of truly subverting what’s already been subverted, cartoon stick figures like Austin Powers and Johnny English will never feel fresh, even when they’re actually saying funny things. Though the fictional Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath predates 007 in print and on film, as played by Jean Dujardin in Michel Hazanavicius’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, the French super agent more or less repeats all of 007’s bad habits, only with his tongue planted so firmly in cheek he looks as if he’s hurting himself. “Numbered like a cow led to slaughter” is how some honey refers to Hubert’s alias, OSS 117, to which he replies, “You’re not a Lebanese reporter based in Rome.” Funny, except it all sounds cribbed verbatim from Octopussy. A Fabergé egg was at stake in that Bond picture, while chickens are the ones in grave danger throughout this French import, which has OSS 117 jet-setting from Rome to Paris before landing in Cairo in order to investigate the death of a friend and former agent, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre), alias OSS 283. In an amusing running gag, OSS 117 remembers OSS 283 via homoerotic horseplay on the beach, and though the story acknowledges the character’s condescension to Muslim culture and tradition (as in OSS 117’s silencing of a muezzin prayer), his arrogance is never assailed so much as his obliviousness is offered as a defense. In this way, the film too often opts for the easy way out, a strategy that perfectly describes its sense of humor, which too often hinges on petty insinuations about OSS 117’s sexuality, which do not become any funnier just because the spy acknowledges them exactly as such, and the good ‘ol “white ass” becoming “wine ass,” which is supposed to be funny, I guess, because OSS 117 is, yeah, French.
- Music Box Films
- 95 min
- Michel Hazanavicius
- Jean-François Halin
- Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika, Philippe Lefebvre, Constantin Alexandrov, Saïd Amadis, Laurent Bateau, Claude Brosset, François Damiens, Youssef Hamid, Khalid Maadour
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