Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Well, to begin with, "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" is a terrific title. Better than the film, but there you are. Watching it, I began to shape a review about how its hero, French Agent 117, was by James Bond out of Inspector Clouseau and Austin Powers (try not to picture that). But then I discovered from Variety that the character Agent 117 actually appeared in a novel in 1949; its author, Jean Bruce, wrote no less than 265 novels about him, qualifying for second place, I guess, behind Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret.
The books and movies, I gather (not having read or seen any of them), were more or less straightforward action, so although Ian Fleming may have created 007 with a debt to 117, what he brought new to the table was the idea of comedy. And if the Bond movies are themselves quasi-serious on some level, Mike Myers went completely over the top with Austin Powers, inspiring the makers of this new film to try to make him seem laid back. Their agent is now the subject of a parody so far over the top that, well, it's not every day you see two spies fighting by throwing dead chickens at each other.
The movie stars Jean Dujardin as Agent 117 (real name: Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath), who in 1955 is sent by the French secret service to Egypt to deflect the impending Suez crisis, bring peace among the Americans, Russians and Egyptians and settle the problems of the Arab world. No problem-o. Jean Dujardin, who looks more than a little like young Sean Connery, is in a film Bondian that begins with an extreme action sequence, has titles based on the view through a roving gunsight, and cuts directly to Rome and 117 in a tuxedo, making out with a beauty garbed in satin, who tries to stab him in the back.
The French-made movie travels familiar ground, with a nod as well to "Airplane!," "Top Secret" and that whole genre. Even compared to them, it pushes things just a little -- not too far, but toward the loony. For example, Agent 117's cover role in Cairo is as the owner of a wholesale chicken business. When he discovers that the chickens cluck and the roosters crow when the lights are on, but not when they're off, he has no end of fun playing with the light switch. This is a guy who's short some bulbs.