Movie News & Reviews

Laugh at the French

In the interest of easing strained United States-France relations I urge every patriotic American to do your diplomatic duty and see the new French comedy, "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies."

Aside from improving international cooperation, you can pride yourself on having seen a hidden treasure of comedic filmmaking. Released in 2006 in Europe, "Nest of Spies" is finally coming to America with its keen satire and a hidden agenda aimed directly at your funny bone.

In the politically tumultuous year of 1955, the French government must rely on brave secret agents to protect its interests in the Middle East. One such hero is Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117, who is sent to Egypt to investigate the disappearance and supposed death of friend and fellow operative Jack Jefferson.

Masquerading as a poultry plant magnate, OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) bumbles and bullies his way into a foreign land. Upon arrival he is met by Larmina El Akmar Betouche (a sexy and sassy Berenice Bejo). The consummate lunkheaded chauvinist and naive racist, OSS 117 immediately begins to offend everyone he encounters.

He even manages to insult the whole city when his beatdown of a local holy man calling the traditional morning Muslim prayer is broadcast over the open mike. To OSS 117 he was simply "some crazy guy yelling from a tower" and waking him up.

As his clueless snooping continues, he must contend with assorted double-crossers and nefarious villains, and one particularly randy princess (a hilarious turn by sultry Aure Atika).

The standard cliched convoluted spy story is merely an excuse for what is basically a steady stream of sight gags, exaggerated stereotypes and groan-inducing punch lines. The yuks are rapid-fire and the dialogue crackles. This is comedy stripped down to its pure essence, pulling the belly laughs out of you on an almost instinctual level, and somehow managing to seem the height of sophisticated wit. Clocking in at 99 minutes, "Nest of Spies" is a smooth model of comic timing and efficiency.

The perfection of "Nest of Spies" lies in every single component of the film, from the writing to the set design, coming together without a hitch. From its Saul Bass inspired opening credits, "Nest of Spies" establishes itself as a knowing farce that skewers past cinematic icons such as the Bond films with ease, while slyly addressing modern concerns like the wrong headed infliction of Western imperialism on an alien culture. Ostensibly a takeoff on the cycle of French OSS 117 films that began in 1956 and ran through the '70s, "Nest of Spies" is a kitchen sink riff on the espionage genre at large. One of its many charms is its meticulous attention to detail in costuming and cinematography thanks to Charlotte David and Guillaume Schiffman respectively. If unaware of its actual production date, you'd swear you were watching a film from the late '60s -- it's that well executed.

Carrying the bulk of laughs on his shoulders, Jean Dujardin as OSS 117 is a mega comedy star waiting to happen. Already popular in his native France, he is the quintessential square-jawed buffoon. His facial expressions and timing are impeccable. Trust me, he's one in a million.

Directed with a keen winking eye by Michel Hazanavicius who hails from a television background and helmed among others, the decidedly unfunny documentary "Rwanda: History of Genocide," "Nest of Spies" is one of the funniest films you'll see this year. Part "Pink Panther," part "Get Smart," "Nest of Spies" could be a rewarding franchise for years to come.

Luckily "OSS 117: Rio Does Not Answer" is already in production, ensuring at least one more romp with super agent Hubert. So give "Nest of Spies" a try; if you don't like it, the next round of freedom fries is on me.

  Comments