OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies

After “The Artist” won five Oscars, it looked almost ridiculous that the goofy looking spy spoof “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” now had so much award bait pedigree. But you watch this charming and silly film and begin to realize what Michel Hazanivicius must have had in mind all along before making a silent film.

Most movies that parody just about anything riff on names, plot points, characters and once interesting ideas that have become clichéd. But “Nest of Spies” is an image-based spoof. It’s very attentive to what these films look like first and runs from there.

“The Pink Panther,” “Charade, “Austin Powers;” these are all movies that know their target well, but none of them are as well made or visually dynamic as their counterparts.

“Nest of Spies” is. The wacky plot and debonair hero are almost secondary to making the film look right first.

So Hazanavicius has populated his movie with more visual cues than you can point a gun at. The backdrops as the heroes drive by look rightfully fake, the spies lingering in the airport hide beneath phone booths and newspapers precisely the way we’ve seen before, the shadowy office is just bound to contain a mystery man waiting inside, and all the flashbacks blatantly recall “From Here to Eternity.”

Even the opening scene set in Nazi Germany is done in Old Hollywood black and white. Hazanavicius goes as far as to make the fight scenes surprisingly well choreographed, despite how predictable the outcome will be.

Although probably like “The Artist,” the movie would hardly be special without Jean Dujardin in the lead role. He plays OSS 117 with as much charisma as George Valentin, demonstrating talent as more than an actor but a real showman (he dances and sings in this movie too). The key he brings to the role is making OSS 117 charming and likeable, not bumbling. If he comes across as ignorant and offensive at times, he makes it seem as though it’s a natural part of being French.

This is a delightfully amusing movie that I laughed a lot at. It’s got more laughs and probably as much cinematic know-how as “The Artist,” even if both movies begin to run out of steam in their second halves. It’s a testament to how well made even a dopey comedy can be.

3 stars

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