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Movie review: 'OSS 117 — Lost in Rio'

France's send-up of a James Bond-type spy who's a bumbling idiot has its charms.

May 07, 2010|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

France's super secret agent man is back in "OSS 117 — Lost in Rio," and he's better, and worse, than ever with a lot of bang, bang, bang, stumble, bumble, fumble in flashy '60s era suits of impeccably poor taste.

The latest edition of the French spoof again stars Jean Dujardin as Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an idiot suave-ant of secret agents with brilliantine hair and a specialty for sailing through politically incorrect pronouncements with the same aplomb he does shoot-outs with bad guys.

For director Michel Hazanavicius, who resurrected the OSS 117 franchise in 2006's "OSS 117 — Cairo, Nest of Spies," "Lost in Rio" is a clear case of overkill. That's not necessarily a criticism, or only a bit of one, since the French tend to treat farce like saltwater taffy — they stretch it to absurd extremes then proceed to savor it for a long time. It's what makes them such fans of Jerry Lewis comedy.

The story picks up 12 years after the Cold War era of "Cairo, Nest of Spies," in 1967, an era tailor-made for fun poking between the clothes and the beach-blanket-bingo culture. The world has changed, but Hubert hasn't. He's still swimming in arrogance, steeped in misogyny, bigotry and the rest, and still as likable and forgivable as ever.

A former Nazi, now hiding in Brazil, has devised a blackmail scheme that includes some microfilm, a list of French sympathizers and a great deal of money. In no time Hubert is in steamy Rio teamed with an Israeli colonel, Dolores (Louise Monot), a beautiful redhead who favors Day-Glo minis and go-go boots. The bumbling begins as they dodge a series of Chinese assassins, whom Hubert insults as often as he assaults, on their search for Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler) the psychopathic Nazi they both want to get their hands on.

Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-Francois Halin have improved on the model since "Cairo" by amping up the action — on both the quantity and quality front — setting a brisker pace for the script and filling it with better parody — a Nazi costume party comes to mind.

The film was shot in Rio and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman makes good use of its sweeping harbor vistas and famous landmarks, including the towering Cristo Redentor statue. The action sequences are anchored by a series of perfectly preposterous fight scenes in high places — on statues, bridges, rooftops — anything that might trigger Hubert's vertigo, a key to unlocking the mystery here.

But the main attraction is what Dujardin does with the character. From his slicked back hair to his even slicker smile (it helps that the actor bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Sean Connery's Bond), Dujardin inhabits Hubert's model perfect looks and his unwavering idiocy equally and excellently.

I don't know that we actually need Agent OSS 117, but the world is a slightly better place with him around. And the film itself is a harmless trifle — make that truffle, chocolate of course.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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