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Movie Review

This spy spoof needs to get smarter

Jean Dujardin (with Bérénice Bejo) plays a superspy in 'OSS 117,' Michel Hazanavicius's espionage comedy set at the end of World War II. Jean Dujardin (with Bérénice Bejo) plays a superspy in "OSS 117," Michel Hazanavicius's espionage comedy set at the end of World War II.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / May 16, 2008

Ian Fleming did not invent the superspy. He just brought the profession international superstardom. But before James Bond ever fired a pistol, there was Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, also know as OSS 117. The novelist Jean Bruce came up with 91 books worth of stuff for him to do. So 007 is the British 117. If you're mind is sufficiently blown, then perhaps we should stop here, since the recent 117 movie spoof is only mildly funny. "Austin Powers," it ain't.

"OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" actually conflates Bruce's hero and Fleming's. The result is an arch espionage comedy that's never as amusing as it thinks it is. Directed and co-written by Michel Hazanavicius and starring the French comedian Jean Dujardin as OSS 117, the movie is a sketch stretched to tedious feature length.

Set at the end of World War II, the movie's mystery plot - Where has one of 117's fellow agents disappeared to? - is an excuse for would-be outlandishness and fake exotic locations. The filmmakers are admirably out to mock the sexism, racism, and absurd virility in spy movies, in part, by making 117 a merry nincompoop. He's the kind of guy who doesn't get that the bell waking him up in Cairo is an Islamic morning-prayer call. He's just miffed.

Dujardin looks suave. But he's dashing in a way that necessarily never upstages his cluelessness. He's handsome first, stupid next, and rarely both at the same time - or at least the tame, almost straightforward boudoir scenes didn't make me laugh. Of course, the image of him hurling live chickens at a foe who hurls them back was pretty funny.

Otherwise, "Nest of Spies" is too busy correcting political incorrectness to achieve its own ribaldry. We're meant to chuckle when the film's two female characters, both Arabs, rip off each other's clothes during a fight on a dock while 117 looks on with pleasure. But we've been here before. I waited for one of them to turn into a Femme Bot. No such luck. "Nest of Spies" appears to have more in common with TV's "Get Smart." Steve Carell is playing the show's bumbling secret agent in a movie later this summer. This French spoof makes an apt starter for the Hollywood one, although I'll be sad not to see Carell throw a coop-load of squawking poultry.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/movienation.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

Written by: Hazanavicius and Jean-François Halin, inspired by the novels of Jean Bruce

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, and Aure Atika

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 95 minutes

In French, with subtitles

Unrated (sexual situations, cartoon violence, and projectile poultry)

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