Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

OSS 117: Lost In Rio

Illustration for article titled OSS 117: Lost In Rio

While Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 movies most directly satire a staggeringly lengthy series of French novels—and their super-spy protagonist, who predated James Bond by a few years—they also serve as a diverting spot-the-reference game. In the series’ second film, OSS 117: Lost In Rio, smirking spy Jean Dujardin wears Paul Newman’s wardrobe from Harper, disguises himself as Errol Flynn from The Adventures Of Robin Hood, confronts an enemy atop Rio de Janeiro’s giant Christ The Redeemer statue à la the climax of Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur, and fights his fear of heights on a spiral staircase, in a sequence from Vertigo. Specific Bond movies and other spy pictures get their callouts as well. But the humor is less in the Scary Movie-style references than it is in the overall roasting of the ’60s spy genre, with its smug, entitled heroes who leave trails of corpses and sighing women in their wake.

In Lost In Rio, Dujardin is dispatched to Brazil on what seems like a milk run: He’s been ordered to pay off a Nazi whose list of World War II-era French collaborators could potentially embarrass the government. Ambushed by Mexican luchadores and rescued by Mossad agents who are chasing the Nazi, he promptly offends his new allies—particularly curvy colonel Louise Monot—with a series of tone-deaf comments about Jews’ noses and their love of money. As in Hazanavicius’ first OSS 117 film, Cairo, Nest Of Spies, much of the gag is how Dujardin thinks himself the height of European suavity and urbane sophistication, while he’s actually horrifying everyone around him with his casual racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. As with Bond—particularly the Bond of Ian Fleming’s original novels—his ’60s version of machismo has aged poorly.

None of this is particularly sophisticated humor; again, it’s Austin Powers goofery by way of Mel Brooks, though with a cooler, dryer tone and a much straighter face, embodied by Dujardin’s vapidly winning grin, which admits no embarrassment or self-awareness. There’s some sense of diminished returns from Nest Of Spies; Lost In Rio returns to the same jokes, particularly regarding Dujardin’s cluelessness and social clumsiness, not to mention his Bond-esque expectations for every beautiful woman he meets. His charm remains simultaneously infectious and risible, even when the gags get repetitive. But in fitful bursts, Lost In Rio reaches further than its predecessor, delving into a loopy absurdism. Once the points have been made about how culture has changed since the ’60s, the film tends to go in circles, but at its best, it instead goes far out on a limb.