Saturday popcorn theater: “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (2006)
24 October 2010
Let’s just say that one of my long, humorless foreign films from Netflix got nixed last night, so we opted instead for this French spoof of James Bond. Actually, it’s more like a combination of Bond, Austin Powers, those Cary Grant/Hitchcock films from the 50s, and Inspector Clouseau. Every single line is delivered with the perfect combination of suave confidence, mock seriousness, and utter cluelessness. In short: it’s great.
How does Jean Dujardin, as Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117, do it? He’s gorgeous — a cross between Sean Connery and “Mad Men”‘s Jon Hamm — but he’s got the goofiest knack for physical comedy and delivery; he comes off as both fatuous and oblivious just as in your favorite moments of Peter Sellers as Clouseau. You find yourself admiring him as a specimen of 1950s manliness (oh, how he carries one of those suits with the slim trousers!), but his mouth is way too wide, so when he gives us a big grin or laughs, he looks absurd. I can’t imagine another comedian doing this so perfectly — it’s no wonder that no American or English actor has been able to pull off a proper spoof of the 007 franchise. And when I say that, I most certainly assert that 1967’s “Casino Royale” with David Niven and the “In Like Flint” films (1966, 1967) with James Coburn as super-spy Derek Flint don’t measure up to this.
Dujardin can carry off a scene in which he spontaneously learns to dance the mambo or play the oud — each time, the crowd around him cheers wildly — and he turns every woman’s head when he walks by in his swimming trunks. But he’s got virtually nothing going on upstairs; he blandly asks about the pharoahs as if they’re still leading Egypt’s government, and is so annoyed by Cairo’s meuzzin calling via microphone for prayers at dawn that he clubs him unconscious so he can go back to sleep. In fact, some of film’s best moments involve OSS 117’s utter obliviousness to world affairs beyond Paris city limits — all of which gave me particular delight in the context of our xenophobic 2010. Even if you don’t understand a word of French, you’ll get virtually all of the comedy of Dujardin’s delivery, because he’s just that good a comedian. Best of all, at a tidy 99 minutes, this film is just long enough to get your mind off everything before you go to bed. Plus, there’s an equally well-reviewed sequel, “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” (2009) that pushes our hero ahead in time to 1967 and promises another night’s worth of mindless popcorn enjoyment — as OSS 117 tells us at the end of the trailer, “If you like dancing and Chinese, you’ll love it.” Why, I DO love dancing and Chinese!
At your service, as OSS 117 would say.