OSS 117 - Lost in Rio Review
It’s 1967 and Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Jean Dujardin) has successfully completed his latest assignment in Gstaad, with orders to protect a Chinese countess from the invading Red Guards. There’s little time for R&R, however, when headquarters instructs him to carry out a spot of blackmail in Rio, upon learning that an escaped Nazi by the name of Professor Von Zimmel (Rüdiger Vogler) holds a microfilm listing French Nazi sympathisers.
Upon arriving in Rio, Hubert is greeted by foul-mouthed CIA agent Bill Trumendous (Ken Samuels) and a mysterious woman known only as Carlotta (Reem Kherici). They leave him in the capable hands of Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot): colonel of the Israeli Army, who, with Mossad agents intend to deport Von Zimmel back to their homeland to await trial. Their search eventually leads them to Von Zimmel’s son, Heinrich (Alex Lutz), who is now living the hippy life, free from his father’s shadow. But things aren’t going to be all that simple, what with the Red Guards still bearing a bit of a grudge toward Hubert, while Von Zimmel, well aware of his being pursued, sends out his best luchadors to take care of business. Can Hubert, with his wayward methods and views save the day before it’s too late? Probably, and you can bet he’ll offend anyone - inadvertently or not - to see the job done right.
Despite a rich history spanning 60 years in which France has seen over 250 novels and several movie adaptations of Jean Bruce’s espionage adventures, the OSS 117 series has remained a successful commodity predominantly within its homeland. It tells of one Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, agent for the SDECE (Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage): a suave, good-looking womaniser who is loyal to his country and weary of others. Indeed similarities between he and his famous British contemporary are evident, though notable in that Bruce‘s creation predates Fleming’s 007 by several years. In its current incarnation OSS 117, despite drawing immediate comparisons, has loftier goals than to merely ride on Bond’s coat tales. While it not only has a lot of its own source material to serve as inspiration, Michael Hazanavicius’s primary take on the franchise is in sending up the spy genre in general with seemingly loving parodies that faithfully recreate the kitsch styles of the sixties, whilst riffing off all the genre clichés that we’ve become oh so accustomed toward over the years from European and U.S. cinema.
2006’s Cairo: Nest of Spies emerged as one of the finest comedies of the year, performing very well at the French box-office and ensuring immediate production went underway on a sequel. It succeeded by not only conjuring up some wonderful parodying material of classic spy capers, but it also retained enough staple intrigue, whilst astutely playing up to its period’s political idiosyncrasies; it felt fresh, just when we had thought we’d seen it all, and at its core was a blisteringly funny Jean Dujardin who had created a character so memorable that we’d want to continue seeing him on our screens. Well, with that granted it’s with some disappointment that I have to say that Lost in Rio finds itself in a bit of a creative rut. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments, but it certainly doesn’t recapture the magic of its predecessor. When it works it’s rib-tickling, with particular genre tropes being spoofed with precision, such as moments involving OSS 117 fleeing - well, more often standing slap-bang in the middle - from hails of bullets coming from nondescript angles, and getting into poorly choreographed fights with familiar henchman figures. The homoerotic subtext - which also played its part in the original - also underlines much of the action, while the sending up of cultural instabilities once more affords some strong chuckles in its depiction of social paranoia and ignorance. However, unlike the first feature film, Hazanavicius, in his return to helm, can’t quite balance the material as skilfully. At the end of the day it’s all down to a fairly sloppy script, co-written by Jean-Francois Halin (also returning) that wants to be everything at once, but forgets what made the original so special to begin with. The biggest problem with Lost in Rio is that the jokes are overplayed by comparison to the quick-fire succession of its predecessor. It’s a case of establishing character, creating a huge laugh stemming from the unbelievable stupidity and arrogance of the hero, and then repeatedly smashing us over the head with his warped ideology. Though the borderline racism and fascism which seem inherent to the source material may well have its place, the constant satirising of post-war xenophobic attitudes soon wears thin, not to mention puts our hero a little too close to edge of indecency, resulting in it being nothing short of lazy.
And perhaps that’s the key word in describing Lost in Rio, as this goes so far to override the central plot, with a lack of ideas that results in a terribly lethargic middle act. Certainly Hazanavicius’s team recreates the period just as lovingly as they did on Cairo: Nest of Spies, and the director’s tinkering in the editing suite has an undeniable retro charm, yet one can’t help but feel that it isn’t being greatly capitalized on. By the time our protagonist finds himself ‘lost in Rio’ the backdrop turns into bland alleyways and darkened jungles; the scope no longer seems as grand as before and there’s little of aesthetic value to hold our attention. It struggles to sustain momentum for a film of such a welcome run time, before starting to redeem itself through a fun confrontation of words set against the backdrop of a resounding waterfall, and the subsequent infiltration of a Nazi gathering with our protagonist disguised as Robin Hood. But even when it reaches its ultimate destination it manages to go beyond the point of homage and parody; when a film designed to spoof the spy genre starts to spoof other films designed to spoof the spy genre then you know things are a little rocky. The build up to the final comic assault is quite the derivative affair, featuring a slow chase sequence which was better sent up by Austin Powers and a showdown set atop the Christ the Redeemer which mirrors the 1966 Italian comic caper Kiss the Girls and Make them Die, with Vertigo-inspired flashbacks thrown in for good measure. While it most certainly looks lavish, perhaps overly so given the director’s fondness for crude effects in other areas, the feature’s set pieces somehow lose their excitement amidst the notion that the writers had simply exhausted themselves already by this point.
It’s sole saving grace, however, is of course Jean Dujardin in the title role of OSS 117; a man who might very well be a clone of past Bonds, graced with the looks and charm of Connery, the smarminess of Moore, and a brilliant comic timing all of his own which effortlessly sees him rise above some of the weaker material in this instalment. Though it feels as if his character has been reduced to even more of a hopelessly ignorant fool, with few genuinely affable qualities, it’s impossible not to like Dujardin’s take on the role. Through all of his pitiable character’s flaws, the actor manages to demonstrate a sense of fallibility through his extremist attitudes and the fighting of inner demons, and he does it with a confident posture, knowing how utterly ridiculous and misguided Mr. La Bath truly is, embracing his absurdist surrounds and lapping up all of the bizarre action thrown his way.
Unfortunately that’s about as far as I can go. Having been supplied with an unfit screener copy, sans menus, and with an emblazoned property logo, I cannot say with certainly whether or not the transfer I see is indicative of the final product, therefor I will not be providing final scores. Still, I would imagine that it’s pretty darn close, and if that’s the case then it isn’t quite up to the standards of ICA’s Nest of Spies release. In comparison, the hard-matted English subtitles remain the same, but the image is softer - though clean - overall and the colours slightly muted. Contrast is a little shaky, and along with black levels creates some minor problems during night-time exteriors, of which there’s plenty. The image also shows minor compression artefacts, but that could well be down to the film compressed on a 4GB DVD-R. It’s anamorphically at 2.35:1.
Audio for viewing is French DD2.0, which I suspect is the sole track for the retail release. Nothing particularly outstanding, but neither are there any immediate concerns with regards to clarity. Dialogue and scoring is fine throughout and the matted subtitles, despite their largeness, at least provide a good translation, free from any noticeable error.
There are no bonus materials.