In 1949, French author Jean Bruce penned the first of what would become a long-running series of spy novels starring American secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, code named OSS 117. The book series, which predated Ian Fleming's first James Bond novels by a couple years, eventually ran to a staggering ninety-one titles(!) and a slew of film adaptations that were extremely popular in Europe during the 007-fueled spy craze of the Sixties.
In 2006, French director Michel Hazanavicius and writer Jean-François Halin collaborated on a revival of the character, OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES - a brilliantly funny parody of 60s Eurospy films and one of the smartest comedies of the decade. It took two more years for that movie to make it to the United States, where it - unjustly - went mostly unnoticed, despite being a huge hit in Europe.
Jean Dujardin plays French secret agent OSS 117, who's sort of a cross between Maxwell Smart, Inspector Clouseau and a Gallic Sean Connery. He's sent to Cairo – a "nest of spies" – to investigate the death of another agent, his "close friend," Jack. His ham-fisted and fumbling investigation brings him into conflict with the British, the Russians, Arab revolutionaries and holdout Nazis, but he ultimately manages to get the job done. Set in 1955 (with a hilarious WW2-set prologue), CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES is a dead-on parody of the Eurospy genre.
The jokes and sight gags are hysterical and clever, the characters are great (I especially enjoy how the filmmakers were willing to let their hero be a complete and utter ass sometimes), the girls are gorgeous, and the production and costume designs are incredible, flawlessly recreating the film's 1950's milieu. I especially dug the swinging, loungy musical score by Ludovic Bource. Most importantly, Dujardin is perfect as the arrogant, self-absorbed de la Bath, masterfully handling the script's many comic challenges while still being utterly convincing in action.
A second OSS 117 film starring Dujardin has been made, OSS 117: RIO DOES NOT RESPOND (2009), this time set in the swinging Sixties, but unfortunately, it has not received a stateside release in any format. And a third film, as yet untitled, is apparently being prepared.
The Region 1 DVD of CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES from Music Box Films sports a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The dialogue is in French, and optional English subtitles are provided. Supplemental features include a "Making Of" documentary, some deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.
Fans of Sixties spies like James Bond, the men from U.N.C.L.E. or our man Derek Flint, will definitely want to add this movie to their collections – it is vastly funnier than the recent GET SMART remake and smarter by far than the Austin Powers films.
OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES gets my highest recommendation. Rent it today, or better yet, buy a copy for your collection.