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May 23, 2013

Movie Review: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)

Swaggerdly suave, handsome & worldly...dashing, dapper and debonair...always dressed to kill, a picture of cool & crisp, cars, fast money, fast wit...well-armed & well aimed...deftly skilled at hand-to-hand combat...a resourceful, finely-honed ability at surveillance, concealment & infiltration...the dogged bane of world-wide villainy...the most nefarious of men, want him dead...the most nefarious of women merely WANT him. THIS guy?? Uh, he's NOT James Bond, folks, and he most assuredly DOESN'T have a clue. He's agent OSS 117, Hubert Bonniseur de la Bath, though the name of the game remains the same...spies, naked thighs and bad guys, albeit in a much more comical meld, with this rollicking and hilarious send-up to classic '50's & '60's spy movies...the 2006 French comedy, "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies"...a nostalgic precursor bit of cinema, from director Michael Hazanavicius, the Academy Award winning filmmaker of 2011's critically acclaimed and equally nostalgic jewel, "The Artist."

It's 1955. Dispatched to Cairo, to investigate the disappearance...and possible death...of a fellow agent and best friend, whom he served with, in World War II, Agent OSS 117 ( Jean Dujardin, eschewing quite literally every scene he's in, with an almost uncanny, albeit more-then-slightly exaggerated rendition of an early Sean Connery's Bond) covertly assumes his missing friend & fellow agent's cover identity, as the manager of a Cairo-based poultry warehouse. Joining forces with a strikingly beautiful and sexy, albeit staunch and by-the-book Egyptian contact (Benenice Bijo), who initially proves immune...even repellent to Hubert's charm, swagger and wit (...not to worry; as might be expected, she eventually comes around), our intrepidly heroic undercover agent stumbles and bumbles over information and clues...sometimes quite literally waived in front of him...and yet, effortlessly passes, punches & parouses his way through sinister, diabolical and rebel-revolutionary proceedings, with nary a hair out of place, and the assorted bad guys he waywardly encounters, left dizzyingly befuddled in his wake. Thwarting the efforts of underworld weapons smugglers, post-war Nazi conspirators, mysteriously disappearing cargo ships, and entrenched rebel fundamentalists...with an occasional break in the action, in order to woo and bed a luscious femme fatale (Aura Atica), who manages to appear in the most unusual and unlikely of places...Agent OSS 117 smartly and confidently sojourns forth in his mission...a mission which culminates into further mystery and intrigue, unveiling a much more deviously underlining master plan...fiendishly constructed and instigated by someone from Hurbert's dim, albeit seasoned past...someone quite close...

...spearheaded by actor Dujardin's uncanny, and hilariously exaggerated impersonation of Connery's early Bond...with all the trademark mannerisms, cool smugness and swagger, which notoriously accompanies that classic character, "...Nest of Spies" is wrought with flavorful and nostalgically comic retoree, throughout the stretch of film...from the charmingly nostalgic-looking '50's style, grainy & washed-out cinematography, reminiscent of those early Bond the cheesy, albeit scenic running 'road' backdrops, behind the vehicled characters, as they are seen the amazing look, design and detail rendered, as far as the period, retro-style clothing. As smug and confident as one might remember having been emoted from the iconic espionage character of the early Bond films, Dujardin embracebly emulates, and plays up the character even more so over-the-top, taking the idiosyncrasies of such character to another level...a much more outrageous level. And yet, despite the smug arrogance and unassumed ignorance of Hubert/OSS 117, such arrogance and ignorance is never made an obstacle or fault of the character, giving the hapless agent, a bumbling crime-solving persona not all that removed from...say, Peter Seller's Clouseau, and thusly, raising the stakes, as far as the hilarity that ensues. As such, it becomes comical nirvana, as OSS 117's swagger, charm and wit...wrought with terribly untimely and ineffective, though chuckle-inducing puns...naughty innuendo-driven double entendres...ludicrously improvisational disguises...and the character's narsecistically repeated attempts throughout the film, to exhue these moments, without ever realizing how ineffective they are...keeps the proceedings comically rollicking along, amidst the overall mystery and intrigue. Even seemingly uncomfortable moments of humor...for instance, when the arrogant secret agent ignorantly invokes chauvinistic pokes and prods at Islam, or at Egypt...are ultimately tempered, and resigned as bumbling 'foot in mouth' moments, which are waved off by the wayward insultees (...and the film's viewing audience), as the almost Dudley-Do-Right-ish character unwarily goes on...little realizing, and as such, little caring who he has smeared, and who is laughing at him...again, making the character, and the ensuing proceedings all the more outrageously funny.

In the onset, the overall humor of the film is seen to often waver, in the sense that it shifts back and forth, from the obvious 'Bond' a clueless 'fish out of water' an outright 'Naked Gun/Top Secret' kind of satire...and again, in reitorating the Clouseau-ish 'bumbling bumbler who still solves the case' standard; however, these wavering moments only serve to emphasize the outrageousness of the goings-on, and make "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies", a refreshing spy spoof (...ironically, based upon a much more serious...and much more prolifically published...espionage-based literary character, originally conceived several years before author Ian Fleming brought Bond into existance), and easily, a quite embraceably nostaglic comedy excursion. Having achieved box-office greatness overseas, in Europe, the insanely comical spy adventures of OSS 117 have since gone on, with 2009's equally outrageous follow-up, "OSS 117: Lost in Rio"...with hopes of more to follow.

Agent OSS 117?? Know that you may proudly take your place amongst the greats...Frank Drebin, Austin Powers, Matt Helm, Inspector Clouseau, Johnny English, Maxwell Smart, Our Man Flint, Modesty Blaise, and the rest. Rest assured, you're in great company.

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