A French spy parody shouldn’t feel more warmed-over than the continuation of a 27-year-old Hollywood franchise. But after previous Bond-skewerers from Get Smart to The Naked Gun to Austin Powers, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is just another stretched-thin case of been there, spoofed that.
Jean Dujardin’s spook is by far the most entertaining part of writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ comedy, co-written by Jean-François Halin (though the original OSS 117 character was created by novelist Jean Bruce and the focus of serious French thrillers in the ’60s). Looking like a young Sean Connery, Dujardin is alternately dashing, goofy, and, of course, mostly completely clueless while supremely confident in his halfassed skills. (Think Steve Carell in The Office; anticipate the same mix in Carell’s upcoming theatrical redo of Get Smart.)
The film globe-trots from Berlin to Paris to Cairo between 1945 and 1955, with Agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath fighting Nazis and later sent to Egypt to investigate the disappearance of his former partner, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre). There he’s aided by the sultry Larmina (Bérénice Bejo), who pours herself into cocktail dresses and endures Bath’s sloppy come-ons while he takes over the chicken farm Jefferson was in charge of and not-so-surreptitiously digs for clues. There’s corruption afoot, but good luck figuring it out: The filmmakers are more concerned with running gags than a
clear plot—a move that, counterproductively, sometimes makes Bath seem like a downright genius while you try to piece things together.
Hazanavicius’ go-to laugh is a coop full of chickens that squawk when the lights are on but go dead silent the second a switch is flipped; Bath is endlessly fascinated by this phenomenon, and it’s amusing for a while—the trouble is that the joke is about all the movie’s got besides a bit of unpleasant homophobia. More effective are the scenes proving that the international spy is actually not so worldly, routinely mocking Muslims and Egyptian culture without the slightest idea of how offensive he’s being: When Larmina says that she doesn’t drink because her religion forbids it, for instance, Bath replies, “What stupid religion would ban alcohol?” His ignorance gets him into further trouble, but as the movie wears on, it’s increasingly likely that you won’t care whether he worms his way out of it or not. In fact, the funniest line may be Bath’s surprisingly blunt, “I’m such an asshole.” Too bad Bath’s dull escapades squash the character’s stoopid-but-candid charm.