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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2010: OSS 117: Lost in Rio

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2010: OSS 117: Lost in Rio

To say that OSS 117: Lost in Rio is a hideously distended continuation of OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies’s one-note joke would be unduly kind. Both spy spoofs assume that that the sexism and just flat-out ass-backward conservative thinking inherent in the original OSS 117 pulps and accompanying film adaptations are much more entertaining than the generic spy formula that served as the backbone for those stories. In the late ’50s and the ’60s, OSS 117 was France’s answer to 007, Ian Fleming’s inescapable rugged spy-about-town. He treats women like coat racks and minorities like adorable pet sidekicks. He’s a fascist with a license to thrill, making him the perfect target for director Michel Hazanavicius’s smart-ass takedown. Like Cairo, Nest of Spies, Lost in Rio is so in love with its sloppy jokes and plodding putdowns of modern-day progressivism that it never really takes off.

As Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-Francois Halin still have no clue what clichés to poke fun of other than our eponymous hero’s staunch refusal to act politically correct in any context, Lost in Rio begins with the premise that it can be as fast-and-loose with its stock plot as it wants to be. OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) is tasked with retrieving a microfilm with a list of French collaborators (“No wonder it’s on microfilm, eh?”) from Von Zimmel (Rüdiger Vogler), an evil Nazi lying in wait in sunny Rio. Along the way, 117 pisses off his comrades in the Mossad, especially lady sidekick/arm-candy Dolores Koulechov (Louise Monot), wrestles some luchadors, scoffs at hippies only to later identify with them reluctantly after dropping some acid and having his ass groped in a beach-side orgy, and murders a whole mess of Chinese hitmen. This is accomplished while he staves off bouts of vertigo (yes, there’s even some errant Hitchcock references in this film). Hazanavicius is equally uninterested in narrative cogence and heartfelt parodies of formula clichés. Instead, he just wants his audience to revel in the knowledge that stereotypes are real knee-slappers because they’re oh-so-wrong. It’s like Brüno all over again, except that film is very funny and this one is not.

What makes Lost in Rio more entertaining than it should be is the few elements of misappropriated nostalgia that rise above the rest of the film’s lunk-headed posturing thanks to good comic timing. Ludovic Bource’s rococo soundtrack is appropriately boisterous and Jean Dujardin really brings more swagger and charm to the role than it deserves. He devilishly transitions from the somewhat matter-of-fact scowl that John Saxon made his calling card into a haughty laugh with deft ease, and never wastes time mugging for the camera even when his stale dialogue requires him to laugh at his own jokes. Dujardin is still very good at what he does, performing to a standard that nobody else involved in the film can meet.