Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf – ‘OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies’

It seems these days, a legitimate spoof movie is in very short supply. In the vast abyss of terrible films, I believe that modern audiences seem to have lost all hope. But that was before this little title came along. I’ll just come right out and say it, this is the best spoof movie I have ever seen. Recalling the brilliance that made Airplane! successful and injecting the period look/nostalgic feel that peppered the Austin Powers series, this remarkable film has just revamped, revived and rewritten the playbook on spoof films.

To be honest, the trailer doesn’t do the film even 1/10th the justice it deserves. However, if being a G-S-T reader that means we see eye to eye on most films, just take my word for it…see this movie, see this movie, see this movie. Now anyone else still wary of this, I’ll go just  a bit deeper. While the name alone is enough to make anyone believe this would be a cheap knock-off, OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions is beyond brilliant. Admittedly, I was hesitant too, especially since everything almost screams “foreign knock-off“. Just looking at the “117” makes you think the title was obviously changed to avoid international copyright infringement.

But that’s the beauty of the film. Like that old adage goes, “Never judge a book (or DVD) by its cover” (well, there are some cases where that just doesn’t apply but most times it’s true). To tell the truth, I have never heard of Jean Dujardin before I saw this sensational film. The French film section of the “Sacred Shelves” is occupied by Luc Besson films, Amile and a few Vincent Cassel titles. Hardly “worldly” I know…but I am working on it. So as I have been previously unaware of Jardin’s work, this film (much like how I felt after seeing Memento, or Mark Strong in Body of Lies) sent me on a mad quest to find out more about this phenomenal actor…results soon to follow.

As far as his side-splitting and crowd pleasing turn here, his Special Agent 117 has the cluelessness of Insp. Jacques Clouseau, the dashing aire and looks of Sean Connery (some scenes you’d thin it was actually Sean), and the simultaneous subtle/hysterical delivery of Gene Wilder…and some Maxwell Smart for good measure. That all adds up to a mess of trouble and very, very original humor. Basically, if you love the Pink Panther, James Bond/Austin Powers and anything from Mel Brooks, you’re in for a treat because, this movie puts all of them to shame.

Subtly, dry wit and zany characters abound in a manner that is brilliant and just short of over the top. Plus throw in some signature and welcomed odd ball scenarios (required by all spoof movies) and you have a film that succeed where recent, so-called spoof movies fall very flat. It is so very sad that these days, comedy (namely spoofs) just feels uninspired and, worst of all, lacking severely in the wit. In what seems like an oxymoron, wit in a spoof is crucial, even (to a degree) more so than the jokes. If something is clever and smart, it can be funny, but it is rare that something funny can be smart of its own accord. OSS 117 redefines spoofs which have been just so mind numbingly asinine, you’d think they were written by and for kids in 3rd grade. Now I like some of my humor to be simple but not insultingly so. Boy is this a breath of fresh air…and from France of all places:P

So“, you might ask, “Marc, what would you say are some examples of smart humor?” This movie is chock full of them, but a few I enjoy and can tell without spoiling much are the number of sight gags. For instance, one is where a sign near the Suez Canal reads “Suez Canal: Panoramic View” as well as hieroglyphics on a pyramid that actually read “Entrance to the Pyramid“. Subtle yes, but also hysterical. That’s just a bit of the smart humor you’ll find in this film. Also, in what could be called a sight gag, there is a scene with chickens and a light switch…that’s all I’m going to say.

However I need to come back to the one element that makes this all work so damn well. OSS 117 would be nothing without the dynamic range of Jean Dujardin. He can be serious but at the very edges of his stern look is a Ricky Gervais level of comedian just aching to burst with laughter and cut up a scene. It just kills me on repeat viewings to see how proud he is of himself in innumerable scenes. This signature style of humor he seems blessed with again is perfectly played out in, among others, the “chickens and a light switch” scene.

Jean Dujardin and OSS 117 are simply comedy heaven. This film is just fantastic. End. Of. Story.

G-S-T Ruling – 5/5

G-S-T– Seal of Approval – GRANTED – This film is a Great Cinematic Treasure.


Editor’s Note: The amazing success of this film has led to the inevitable follow-up called OSS 117 – Lost in Rio. Now I haven’t seen it and it’s not available on Netflix yet, but based on this this trailer, I think I’ll buy it just on principal:)