Spy spoofs don't get much smarter than this

"OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies"

Grade: B

Starring Jean Dujardin. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. Not rated. In French with English subtitles. At Landmark's Midtown Art Cinema. 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Bottom line: French espionage spoof makes the Middle East safe for hilarity.

The retro-hip "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" is a witty French espionage comedy that affectionately spoofs 1970s Eurospy thrillers. Genre parodies often shoot wide of the mark (we call this the Austin Powers Effect), but here we have a meticulous re-creation of the era's look and film style (the mildly cheesy production design and cinematography are spot-on), as well as its politically incorrect attitudes.

There are belly laughs not only about the spy's exaggerated heroics, but ethnocentrism, neo-colonialism and smug Western ignorance of the Middle East. Set mostly in Cairo in 1955, "OSS 117" also visits Rome and Paris, which are helpfully labeled, despite establishing shots of the Coliseum and the Eiffel Tower.

French comedian Jean Dujardin plays OSS 117, a superficially suave nitwit who bumbles through James Bond scenarios with the oblivious self-assurance of Inspector Clouseau. Assigned to replace his longtime partner who went missing in Egypt, 117 swaggers into a Pandora's box of counterplots, power grabs and back-stabbing among religious factions and world powers.

Ordered to find the vanished agent and "make the Middle East safe" once and for all, he greets his lovely local contact Larmina (Berenice Bejo) with smirking sexual innuendo and Gallic superiority. He declares the problem with Arabic is it's impossible to read, and insists that Islam is just a passing fad. What future could there be for a religion that forbids alcohol? Offending the natives at every turn, 117 sets off a jihad.

Dujardin, who has the square-jawed good looks of Sean Connery and the comic timing of Jim Carrey, cuts a daffy if dashing figure as the superspy. In defense of liberte, egalite and stupidite, he barrels through delightfully overblown chases and hand-to-hand fight scenes without ever mussing a hair, ineptly romances exotic beauties and smiles through misty reveries of his friendship with his dear, dead colleague Jack. They shared many a manly romp on the beach in a relationship that would apparently disqualify them from being scoutmasters. There's already a sequel under way, taking 117 to Rio. I can't wait to go along for the ride.

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