OSS 117: Lost in Rio -- Film Review



NEW YORK -- We've had Derek Flint, Maxwell Smart, Austin Powers and innumerable other lampoons of spies and secret agents, so why shouldn't the French get into the act with "OSS 117: Lost in Rio"? This sequel to 2006's "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" spoofs one of their iconic characters, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, the hero of a series of novels and films dating to the late 1940s.

Unfortunately, the genre has gotten a bit stale by now, and this mostly unfunny effort -- though it might have made them laugh silly in its home country -- is unlikely to appeal to art house audiences on this side of the Atlantic.

Reprising his role as the title character is Jean Dujardin, whose deadpan comedic style is the best element of the otherwise over-the-top proceedings.

Set 12 years after the previous installment, this one has 117 jetting down to Rio to retrieve a microfilm listing the names of World War II French collaborators (he's astonished to discover there were any). Joining forces with a beautiful -- naturally -- female Mossad agent (Louise Monot), he finds himself facing off against various bad guys, including Chinese gangsters and an aged Nazi.

Director Michel Hazanavicius perfectly apes the stylistic mannerisms of '60s-era spy thrillers, from cheesy soundtrack selections -- in this case, Dean Martin's cover of "Gentle on My Mind" -- to split-screen visuals to groovy costumes and hairstyles. He also throws in numerous gratuitous Hitchcock references, with copious riffs on "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest."

Most of the film's tired humor stems from the clueless 117's casual racism and misogyny, expressed largely through an endless series of anti-Semitic comments that prove more tasteless than funny.

For every comic sequence that works -- an agonizingly slow foot chase in a hospital between 117 and the Nazi while both are hooked up to IVs -- there are more that fall flat: 117 tries in vain to cook a crocodile for dinner. One would guess the gags involving an American CIA agent whose language is peppered with endless vulgarisms played a lot better in France than they do here.

Smirking as expertly as Sean Connery, Dujardin admittedly is a hoot as the sexist secret agent. It's too bad his terrifically self-deprecating comic performance is undercut by the lameness of everything that surrounds him.

Opened May 7 (Music Box Films)
Production: Mandarin Films, Gaumont, M6 Films, Canal Plus, CineCinema
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Louis Monot, Rudiger Vogler, Alex Luntz
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Screenwriters: Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-Francois Halin
Producer: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Director of photography: Guillaume Schiffman
Editor: Reynald Bertrand
Costume designer: Charlotte David
Music: Ludovic Bource
No rating, 100 minuntes