Odds are, most Americans won't have heard of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath -- aka OSS 117, the suave hero of Jean Bruce's prolific run of spy novels (91 books in 14 years, after which Bruce's widow, Josette, penned 143 more) -- but they'll recognize him instantly as a Cold War relic of the James Bond variety. The devilish genius of director Michel Hazanavicius' 2006 spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies and its new sequel, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, is that few alterations were likely needed to spin comedies out of Bruce's novels or the handful of '60s espionage thrillers adapted from them. Yesterday's cool is tomorrow's square, after all, and with attitudes and ambience this hilariously dated, Hazanavicius barely needs to touch the volume knob.
A handsome, barrel-chested stud with Brylcreemed hair, a pencil mustache and a wardrobe full of just-past-fashionable suits and skintight bathing wear, Jean Dujardin's Hubert cuts a figure close to Sean Connery-era Bond, but operates more like Maxwell Smart. Both OSS 117 movies could fairly be labeled one-joke parodies, but the formula is a good one: Take all the misogyny, xenophobia and First World arrogance already embedded in the genre, and simply call attention to it. Because the moment that smooth talker with the tuxedo and the Jaguar loses his cachet, he immediately turns into a boob.
It would be charitable to say Lost In Rio picks up right where Cairo, Nest Of Spies left off; in reality all it does is rinse and repeat. Hazanavicius does, however, get the most out of the new backdrop, which provides an agreeable bossa nova vibe, luscious locales (and bodies) in glorious CinemaScope, and a showdown at the famed Christ the Redeemer statue that pulls off an impressive trifecta of Hitchcock references (Vertigo, North By Northwest and Saboteur). And he provides Hubert with the ideal foil in Dolores Koulechov (Louise Monet), a beautiful Mossad agent who has to endure both the hero's sexist remarks ("You're made to have children") and his casual anti-Semitism.
Opening in the late '60s, with the culture rapidly evolving past him, Lost In Rio sends Hubert to Brazil in search of one Professor Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler), an escaped Nazi who claims to hold microfilm that lists the names of French sympathizers. The government wants Hubert to pay this villain off, but when Von Zimmel and his burly luchador enforcers scotch the deal, Hubert teams up with Dolores to capture the Nazi and bring him back to Israel to face charges.
As expected, Lost In Rio scores most of its hit-or-miss gags off Hubert's cheerful obliviousness. (Dolores: "Our people have always provoked wild fantasies." Hubert: "Thanks for admitting it. You're obviously a little bit responsible.") But the smartest jokes veer sharply into the absurd. There's the sight of an impeccably dressed Hubert in the rain forest, covered in blood, futilely trying to roast a crocodile on a spit. Or an endless car chase through cheesy back-projection, followed closely by perhaps the slowest footrace ever committed to film.
Hazanavicius is just inventive enough to keep his candy-colored diversion from falling into predictable shtick, and Dujardin's disarming innocence and toothy charm as Hubert make him lovable despite himself. But for all its pleasures, this OSS 117 parody is more or less interchangeable with the other -- and with a third one reportedly in the works, it raises a question: When the spoof becomes the franchise, does it cease to be a spoof?