Review: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin in “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.”
Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin in “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.”

Dir. Michel Hazanavicius. 99 minutes.

When an American secret agent goes missing in Egypt, French super-spy Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Jean Dujardin) is dispatched, touching off a whirlwind of double-crosses, karate fights, car chases and sizzling romantic encounters.

G. K. Chesterton wrote that angels can fly “because they take themselves lightly.” That also is the secret of this sprightly screwball comedy, which elevates leaden topics like militant Islam and French imperialism with a touch of frivolity.

The “OSS 117” films are parodies not exactly of James Bond, but of the avalanche of tacky Eurospy movies that followed the success of the Connery Bond films. Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, Agent OSS 117, is un mec très charmant, a brilliantined smooth-talker who delights in dancing, brawling and double-entendres. (Throwing a henchman through a window, OSS 117 lustily exclaims, “I love to fight!”) He’s also a vision of “the ugly Frenchman”: cavalier, chauvinistic and content to remain ignorant about the non-French world. It requires Dujardin’s almost superhuman charisma to convince us that OSS 117 is funny, charming and sympathetic rather than merely obnoxious.

At a moment when satire has become synonymous with sanctimony, OSS 117’s caprices are a welcome relief.