What is it in our collective DNA that makes us like bumbling spies so much? The Agent-Without-a-Clue is an enduring force in the movies, from which many sequels have been spawned. There’s Natasha and Boris from the old Rocky & Bullwinkle show to the contemporary Austin Powers.
And there’s also Hubert Bonissuer de la Bath, alias French Agent OSS 117 — alias Jean Dujardin.
The world (myself included) fell in love with Jean Dujardin last year for his Academy Award-winning lead role in THE ARTIST (2011). And when I discovered that Dujardin and The Artist’s director and writer Michel Hazanavicius had teamed up earlier to create two throwback spy movies, they were on the “must watch” list in seconds.
The first, OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006) takes Dujardin’s thick-headed but oh so debonair Hubert to Egypt to take on the task of “straightening out” the Middle East.
The film has all the standard spy send-up elements, including the beautiful female agent and super villains. It’s silly and totally entertaining, with a number of laugh out loud and did-he-really-say that politically incorrect lines. I didn’t get all the French colonialism jokes, but no matter. NEST OF SPIES is great fun.
And the follow-up feature, OSS 117: LOST IN RIO (2009) is just as satisfying, taking us to South America for some Nazi-hunting with the continuing clueless and incredibly stylish playboy spy. The sight gags and groan-inducing laughs continue, but this time with extra and effective visual tricks with the split screen, gorgeous scenery, a hippie orgy (which is funny but a bit disappointing nonetheless), and the tropical sounds of bossa nova. How can you go wrong?
With these two OSS films as testing ground, you can see how the Hazanavicius team, including Bérénice Béjo, were able to perfect the homage film we saw in THE ARTIST. They have imitation down as the sincerest form of flattery.
One of the best things about being a Home Projectionist is designing your night’s programming, and I am still torn about which OSS I would show on an upcoming spy night. For me, I think two OSS films in a row would be overkill. I would rather fill out the night with a classic Spy V. Spy cartoon, a Get Smart episode, and then most likely, LOST IN RIO.
And during cocktails — both before the screening begins and when the watching is over — there’s so much fabulous ’60s music to play.