A Berretta that is a few shots short of a full clip, Michel Hazanavicius’ lightning jabs at the spy super-hero fantasy are disjointed. Too little, too late?
Stand-up comic Jean Dujardin pounced into the big time in 2007 with a smashing César nomination for Best Actor for the first OSS 117 French spook send-up “OSS 117: Nest of Spies.” This sequel appears to be the beginning of the milking of this cash machine. If not overly hilarious, it will pay the way for future sequels. Director/screenwriter Michel Hazanavicius knows when he is on to a good thing. After grabbing a Cesar nomination for screenwriting with “Nest of Spies” he already has the third sequel in the works.
OSS 117 is the codename for the fictional Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath invented by author Jean Bruce in 1949, four years ahead of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. In an odd twist for post WWII France, de La Bath is an American Colonel from Louisiana. He is of French descent and his adventures have him working for the French OSS and then, of all things, the American CIA and National Security Council (NSC). This series of yarns was continued by Bruce’s family after his death, totaling some 300 stories.
Prolific, that Bruce bunch, and a commendable run for the spy thriller genre.
Hazanavicius studied and admired the Bond send-ups “Get Smart” and the more recent “Austin Powers” series and has followed that fundamental style with a few twists of his own. His portrayal of Bath as incredibly politically incorrect lends a funny currency to the character. Agent Maxwell Smart was dumb but he was not politically incorrect. Powers restricted his incorrectness to the outrageous sexual fantasies exploited by the Bond series as well as the nascent sexual freedom of the 1960s.
Bath extends this clumsy incorrectness into outrageous insults against Jews and third world men, women and children but the screenwriter rescues the film from complete callousness when understated female hero Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot) steps in to save the day. Hence the continuation of the prevalence of the female spy over the male, as in “Get Smart.”
Unfortunately, Hazanavicius does not pull this off completely and consistently throughout the film. Monot’s character as well as her acting is remarkably wooden and uninteresting. This film really needs a clever female---it turns out to be a necessary part of the formula. Without the pronounced participation of the female cutting the supreme male to pieces the package lacks punch. There has to be an Agent 99 for the Agent 86 just as there was Lucille Ball for Desi Arnaz and a Gracie Allen for George Burns.
To some extent credit is due the film for refusing to take advantage of that tool. It is a film that not only satirizes the spy fantasy but also satirizes the spy fantasy film satires. When the woman gets her chance, she refuses to take it, giving the audience pause and setting them up for the laughs to follow. Ken Samuels’ over-the-top portrayal of brain damaged CIA agent Trumendous may be a left-handed nod to the original Bath allegiance to the anti-Francophone CIA and NSC.
OK—funny enough, but this is another joke that requires too much work for the average audience to get.
The plot pokes into the 60’s sexual chaos and drug use with a 20-minute LSD interlude in the middle of the film. Although a creditable jab at the joys of drug augmented free sex it fails to resonate with the main plot and therefore does nothing to enhance the humor of the feckless spy.
As it turns out the laughs that follow are good when they come but too far and few between to put this film in the category of, say, the “Pink Panther” or any of the “Get Smart” episodes. It is a film with a few scenes that are superbly original. However, these are interspersed with too many other scenes that get laughs only from those viewers who really want to laugh.
Release: May 7, 2010
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 101 minutes