|'That these three talents went from this to their subtle awards darling The Artist is roughly as predictable as Keith Chegwin directing a BAFTA winner.'|
Before Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo made Oscar-winning The Artist, they made this: a slightly bawdy Spy Caper/parody, one part Naked Gun, one part Scary Movie. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies is occasionally broad, bawdy stuff, with jokes on a level only just above the gutter, partnered with some clever observation and snappy dialogue. That these three talents went from this to their subtle awards darling is roughly as predictable as Keith Chegwin directing a BAFTA winner.
At its best, Nest Of Spies relies on the dialogue of Jean-François Halin and Hazanavicius' script and the not inconsiderable charm of Dujardin. The latter can flash a smile with the best of classic Hollywood, which explains why he was suited to his The Artist role. Here, as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (alias: OSS 117), he excels as a handsome simpleton who understands neither spying, people or cultural politics and yet has to engage in all three of them. 'Buy shoes for your kids', he tells foreman Slimane (Abdellah Moundy), 'it'll be difficult', comes the reply, 'they're in New York at University'. There are moments when de La Bath reminds you of Frank Drebin, and it has been a long time since any parody has genuinely been able to claim that.
There are other moments though that remind you just how good The Naked Gun films, Police Squad and other Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker productions are and how tone deaf the modern parody can seem by comparison. There are far too many jokes that rely on a lot of ogling of either Bejo's Larmina or Princesse Al Tarouk (Aure Atika) and it's no surprise when the final scene manages to manufacture a situation where both of them end up in their underwear. Is it in-keeping with the targets of this film, Bond and the like? Yes, but it's handled with all the subtlety of a fist full of Walther PPKs.
Compared to its US and UK counterparts though, this does get the sub-genre more so than any recent efforts. A solid gag about a spy following OSS 117 and reporting to an unseen master is good for at least three laughs and there are others that populate the moments of tone deafness. The plot is predictably silly, but it is near-constantly perked by stand-alone elements such as the above, and OSS 117's fascination with the fact that every time he turns the light on in his cover business, his flock of chickens start squawking. Like the film, it's hardly a revolutionary gag, but that doesn't mean it won't make you laugh.