The current glut in foreign film distribution combined with Music Box Films’ limited ability to market and secure screens will likely mean modest proceeds, even with good word of mouth, for the uproariously funny OSS 117: Lost in Rio, director Michel Hazanavicius’ very worthy follow-up to his 2008 reboot of France’s popular spy franchise, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Fans of the previous film should provide a good base on which to build support for Lost in Rio, assuming Music Box can get the word out.
With Cairo, Next of Spies, television veteran Hazanavicius brilliantly reinvented novelist Jean Bruce’s Gallic answer to James Bond—popularized in hundreds of books and seven films in the ’60s and ’70s—as a straightforward Bond spoof, arguably the funniest spy spoof ever made. With this follow-up—which returns the dazzling Jean Dujardin to the lead role—he adds what may well be the second funniest spy spoof ever made. Leaping forward 12 years from the previous film, Lost in Rio transpires in 1967 where agent OSS 117, aka Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Dujardin) is asked to fulfill an otherwise routine mission—fly to Rio de Janeiro and deliver a ransom to a former Nazi officer and war criminal (Rüdiger Vogler) for a microfilm containing an embarrassing list of World War II era French collaborators.
Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned as Hubert soon finds himself reluctantly paired with a beautiful female Mossad agent (Louise Monot) and thrust into a spiral of sticky situations, from the inhospitable Brazilian jungle to a remarkable climax atop a famous Brazilian landmark. As in Cairo, Nest of Spies, Hazanavicius demonstrates an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the films and genres he’s spoofing—everything from the obvious Sean Connery-era Bond films to such Hitchcock classics as Vertigo and North by Northwest. Once again, the period recreation is flawless—music, art direction, costumes and cinematography all so perfectly evocative of the era that one could easily mistake the film for one actually made in 1967. All, however, would be for naught if not for Dujardin’s endearingly magnetic stupidity. Charmingly self-absorbed, magnificently inept, adorably chauvinistic, playfully insensitive to other races, religions and cultures, Dujardin’s Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath somehow manages to imbue a staggering array of reprehensible characteristics in one wholly irresistible rogue.
The real key to the success of this franchise, however, is a remarkably simple one—Hazanavicius and Dujardin are clearly just having fun. Unlike comparable American efforts, like the misguided, top-heavy Get Smart, released the same year as Cairo, Nest of Spies, the assumption here is that the audience is smart enough to get the references and that if those making the film are having a good time, everyone else will as well. That’s the kind of solid, simple, logical reasoning that never seems to filter through the Hollywood development quagmire, but which still holds sway in France, consistently delivering some of the freshest, most charming comedies in the world. May it ever be so.
Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Louise Monot, Rüdiger Vogler, Alex Lutz, Reem Kherici, Pierre Bellemare and Ken Samuels
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Screenwriter: Michel Hazanavicius and Jean-François Halin
Producers: Eric Altmeyer and Nicolas Altmeyer
Genre: Comedy; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: May 7 ltd.