OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

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1955. Jean Dujardin alias French Agent 117 aka Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath is the star in “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, as a homage to 007, Inspector Clouseau and even Maxwell Smart along with dash of Austin Powers, you have a very funny, ridiculously wacky movie. Based on the 1949 novels by Jean Bruce, the movie brings to life the debonair yet quirky character of OSS 117.

We begin with two OSS agents both 117 and his comrade Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) on a airborne mission for which they are herald as heroes of the day. A mishap takes the life of Jack and it’s revenge time for Hubert. He must seek out who killed his partner.

As a matter of fact the top brass at the agency, have a hefty new mission for him with just a few minor objectives: depart for Egypt to bring peace to the Arab world, settle the disputes amongst the Americans, Russians and divert the Suez Canal crisis. Perfect!

Along the way, he must locate his contact while asking many times, “How’s the veal stew?” as the password. He is greeted finally by the stunning yet capable contact Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Berenice Bejo) who must show Hubert the ropes and have him assimilate into her society.

In a hilarious scene he asks to be taught a few phrases to become like a local, so she teaches him how to count to five. Nevertheless, OSS 117 makes use of the knowledge in an even funnier comedic romp. Finding his ignorance to Arab culture deplorable, Larmina nevertheless trudges on to become a loyal companion to this clueless spy.

In his continuing quest to blend into his surroundings which seem impossible for him, he assumes a cover of a chicken and rooster dealer in Cairo. These chickens are only quiet when the lights are off and create a ruckus when the lights are turned on.

Throughout the film, agent 117 has a fascination with these chickens and the lights and wherever possible, plays with the lights like a youngster. His ignorance does not stop there, when the entire Arab world is appalled when he stops a muezzin from calling others to prayer. Thinking that he was just making noise, he climbs up the minaret to take the mike from the muezzin.

Completely mindless but still suave in every shot, he maintains that taurean confidence and a penchant for perfect hair. Just watching his various stances during gunplay is enough to elicit a chuckle as well as passing off photos of President Rene Coty as good luck charms when the mood hits him.

Agent 117 takes everything seriously especially, like Bond, amorous affairs with the ladies- especially wooing the niece of Egypt’s King Farouk (Aure Atika) who seems to be enamored with 117’s arsenal. Nevertheless, she tries to kill him at every opportunity but yet cannot resist his animal magnetism.

What makes this movie enjoyable to watch are the secondary characters who are lively, and though limited in onscreen dialogue, through their facial expressions and dry mannerisms, are hilarious to behold. You have the loyal second hand man to Agent 117 at the Chicken dealership, the evil (that’s pronounced E- veal) informant who tracks 117 wherever he goes, even when he is told otherwise, and others who from time to time steal the show.

With a hip, groovy soundtrack reminiscent of the action, espionage genre, the movie is never without a quickly delivered punchline in every scene. However, its 99 minutes running time can at times seem to drag endlessly.

Funny (not uproarishly), great performances by all, nicely stylized, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”, is a slick film which you can add to the list of good spy parodies out there.

****
Weak: 1 Star   Average: 2 Stars   Good: 3 Stars   Very Good: 4 Stars   Excellent: 5 Stars

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Tobe R. Roberts

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