Dutiful readers may recall that OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is one of my favorites from 2008. The movie’s humor stems from its titular hero, a French spy also known as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, who is a charming moron. He has no idea just how racist/misogynistic his running commentary can be, and relies on spy movie clichés to accomplish his goals. Now France’s answer to James Bond returns with OSS 117: Lost in Rio. Don’t think the locale switch from Egypt to Brazil dampens the brazen humor. With cha libre Nazis and protracted sight gags, this hilarious comedy is comfortable with wit and stupidity.
After a successful mission in Gstaad, OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) heads to the famed Brazilian city. His mission? Obtain a list of French Nazi sympathizers from the dastardly Professor Von Zimmel (Rüdiger Vogler<. Along the way he meets Dolores (Louise Monot), a beautiful mossad agent who wants Von Zimmel tried for his crimes in Israel. First the unlikely duo must capture Von Zimmel’s son Heinrich (ex Lutz), who now lives as a hippie by the beach. The operation goes smoothly, except when CIA operative Bill Trumendous (Ken Samuels) and pesky Chinese henchmen are getting in the way.
“Cheerfully offensive” is a phrase I don’t use nearly enough, but it certainly applies to this movie’s humor. It succeeds because Dujardin has the timing and charisma to pull it off – in the hands of a lesser actor, OSS 117 would be an unpleasant rube. Here’s an idea: after Dolores insists on being treated as 117’s equal, he remarks, “We’ll see what you say when you need to move something heavy.” The line works because the spy means well even when he is condescending – there is genuine concern for her strength, however wrong-minded. A similar attitude permeates discussion of religion, sexism, Judaism, and most any hot-button topic. Other actors are delightfully deadpan – Monot in particular has no problem letting silence hang after a chauvinistic one-liner. Director > has pitch-perfect cinematography and editing. The movie looks corny and drained, as if it’s a long-lost artifact of a bygone era. The retro feel is also apparent during the shootouts, as the spy’s enemies couldn’t hit the broad side of a soccer stadium.
There are times where 7: Lost in Rio makes American movies seem tame by comparison. Some moments, like an unexpected riff on a famous Shylock speech, may make you laugh through sheer audacity. Though there are elements of satire, the racist vulgarities mainly recall time where an idiot like de La Bath could conceivably exist. You may not be laughing consistently*, but the movie moves at a brisk pace, so I’m sure you’ll be eager to see where the writers go next.
* If you happen to speak French fluently, I’m curious to know what you think. There are a number of wordplay jokes that appear to be lost in translation, and I want my suspicions confirmed.