- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

Cairo, Nest of Spies” looks like a vintage spy flick built on the James Bond model. It has that glorious Technicolor sheen, the requisite rear-projection driving scenes, seriously ‘60s-style costumes and a brassy score that sure does accentuate all the punches being thrown. (Yowee!)

“OSS 117” is in disguise, however. The dialogue (in French with English subtitles) gives away the fact that though it’s based on Jean Bruce’s novels (the first of which arrived in 1949, four years before Bond) this film is every bit as contemporary as “Austin Powers.”

The blend of old source material and aesthetic and new worldview makes for a light summer breeze of a flick: cool and refreshing, if ultimately a little too mannered.

French comedian Jean Dujardin takes the lead as the titular operative, OSS 117. He is to 007 what aspiring actor Dane Cook is to Robert Redford. Where Bond was slick, sophisticated, sexy and worldly (and had that unforgettable code name) 117 is dense, ignorant, crude, misogynistic, colonialist and homophobic.

France has a lot of trust in this joker, though. When a colleague stationed in Cairo is thought dead, 117 is sent to Egypt not only to investigate, but also to calm the other foreign powers doing business there, to “buttress French policy” and establish peace in the Middle East.

Our protagonist doesn’t get off on a good foot, however. Upon his arrival in the “land of pyramids and pharaohs,” he insults the missing agent’s secretary, Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Berenice Bejo), by saying that Arabic isn’t any good because it’s too hard to read. Larmina is the first of many people 117 will ruffle. (Just wait until he assaults a muezzin for disturbing his sleep.)

The agent’s offensive and often moronic behavior is deemed “very French” by the smart, sassy secretary - a designation that takes on a somewhat ironic tone in American theaters. (Aren’t we always the ones people are accusing of acting this way?)

Although the film’s focus on style over substance wears a bit thin by its third act, it does deliver some solid laughs. The humor falls somewhere between “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and “Naked Gun,” being both satirical and physical.

If the flick sounds at all appealing, you may want to check it out - if for no other reason than that OSS 117’s next stop (if there is one) may be Iran. Think about it.

**1/2

TITLE: “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”

RATING: Not rated (Some mature themes, sexuality and violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. Written by Jean-Francois Halin (in French with English subtitles). Based on the novels by Jean Bruce.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

WEB SITE: www.musicboxfilms.com/oss117

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