OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
Starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika, Philippe Lefebvre
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Not Rated

Watching the uproariously silly spy spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies you realize how much the James Bond super-spy embodies British national pride. Sophisticated, smart, and a lady killer to boot, Bond is a national poster boy of über-British cool.

Bond is, in other words, everything that the French spy Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath aka OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) is not. Though graced with a killer smile and hair with the glossy sheen of a seal’s coat, OSS is also a chronic bumbler in the Austin Powers, Maxwell Smart, and Inspector Clouseau mode.

While those grace-impaired guys tend to trip over clues and break things, OSS is an incompetent of a different sort. He is smooth as silk in his tailored suit and toned body, but intellectually, OSS is FUBAR, hampered by verbal diarrhea and a gift for shockingly offensive statements that belie the French reputation for cultured cool.

OSS 117 is introduced in a scene that exemplifies director Michel Hazanavicius’s stylish knack for genre-imitation. Using the melodramatic conventions of a 1940s potboiler, OSS and his buddy Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) outwit some Nazis in this marvelous opening black-and-white segment. But the film quickly erupts into eye-blistering ’50s color and an outrageously overheated, boozy soundtrack as OSS makes love on an animal fur bedspread to a bosomy babe.

Hazanavicius’ is a pitch-perfect recreation of the clothes, hair, and mannerisms of another era, from the rear-projection scenery that unfurls behind characters as they drive to the smarmy sexual innuendo that defines more carefully circumscribed films of the past. OSS 117 is a parody of French author Jean Bruce’s mid-century spy novels which actually predated Ian Fleming’s iconic Bond series.

The super-smooth incompetent OSS 117 is sent to Cairo circa 1955 with a rather expansive mission, to “make the Middle East safe,” his chubby French secret service boss instructs. OSS is taking over for his buddy Jack and is aided in his mission by a very tolerant, gorgeous local, Larmina (Berenice Bojo), who squires him around the country and puts up with his racist and sexist bon mots. His first morning in Cairo, an incensed OSS storms from his hotel room and tells the muezzin offering the morning call to prayers to shut up. It’s not the first or the last of the xenophobic Frenchman’s snafus.

“What stupid religion would forbid alcohol?” OSS 117 sneers incredulously to a stunned Larmina as she ferries him around Cairo in her perky powder-blue convertible. But somehow, despite the insults, the ladies keep coming back for more. The sexism that defines spy heroes like Bond is taken to ludicrous new heights in OSS 117 where lady spies beg for OSS to tie them up before making love to them and OSS describes his gun skill while holding his pistol at crotch level and displaying his finesse with his “piece.”

One of the film’s funniest reoccurring jokes is how OSS’s mystifying finesse with the ladies contrasts with what can only be described as his polymorphous sexuality. He’s fond of a man-on-man rubdown (“I love being rubbed with oil,” he quips to a hairy companion doing just that in an Egyptian sauna). Part of OSS’s broad Middle East agenda is to also find out who killed his beloved Jack, shown in numerous flashbacks cavorting on the beach with OSS. They begin by playing paddle ball and giggling like schoolboys. But in flashbacks the two bathing suit-clad men are soon tumbling around in the surf with abandon like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity making love in the rolling waves.

Saucily subversive, screenwriter Jean Francois Halin’s crackling script questions the supposed hetero-manliness of the classic spy hero, but even more smartly pokes fun at French conceit and colonialism as exemplified by OSS, who sees French culture as superior and the local Egyptians as backward children.