Sunday, November 09, 2008

OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES - if you can't beat them....

A few years before Ian Fleming invented James Bond, Jean Bruce invented his French equivalent, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117. Both fictional spies travelled the world, fighting megalomaniacs, shagging hot chicks and generally saving the day in a manner that now seems hopelessly out of date. Both also inspired movies, although the Bond series was exponentially more successful. By 2006, both franchises faced the same problem. The classic spy thriller had fallen into self-parody - the gadgets and chicks formula had been discredited - and spoofs like AUSTIN POWERS were making more money. The Bond franchise responded by becoming more serious and stripped down and, to my mind, boxed itself into a corner with CASINO ROYALE. By contrast, the OSS 117 franchise decided to co-opt the critics, exploiting the camp, kitsch tendencies of the 60s spy flicks - essentially spoofing itself.

The resulting movie is a beautifully crafted spoof that had me laughing out loud throughout. The plot sees Agent 117 (Jean Dujardin) sent to Cairo to investigate the murder of another Agent and good friend, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre). In addition, 117 has to bring peace to a country riven between royalists, islamists and various colonnial powers. On the way, he'll fight with chickens, shag an Egyptian princess, face-off with Nazis and generally cause offense! The movie has a lot of fun exploring the latent homo-eroticism of the relationship between agents (not least between Bond and Leiter in the novels.) But the most fun comes from the film's recreation of the shooting style of Dr No era movies: period costumes, dodgy fight scenes, rubbish back-projection, jazz-filled sound-tracks...!

Jean Dujardin is absolutely perfect as Agent 117. He looks like a young Gallic Sean Connery in his 60s suits and brilliantined hair. But he also has a real talent for physical comedy and several scenes are up there with the best of Inspector Clousseau. Just keep an eye out for a scene where he dances the twist at an Embassy ball. I can't wait till the next 117 movie. Absolutely perfect for a miserable Sunday afternoon!
CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES / OSS 117: LE CAIRE NID D'ESPIONS was released all the way back in 2006 in France, Belgium, Greece and Russia. It was released in 2007 in the Philippines. It was released earlier this yaer in Spain, the US and Brazil and is currently on release in the UK.

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