French spy comedy starring Agent 117 isn't quite as good as the original, but has plenty of laughs.
The exuberantly obtuse French secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name "117," goes south -- geographically and figuratively -- in "OSS 117: Lost in Rio." The heavy-footed sequel to 2006's "Cairo, Nest of Spies" doesn't quite recapture the politically incorrect high comedy of the original. It's generally friendly and enjoyable, but it sags a bit.
Like the "Austin Powers" films, the "117" series is a skillful parody of early 1960s spy movies, but more interested in lampooning Cold War cultural attitudes than mod fashions. Agent 117 is sent to Brazil to locate a Nazi official blackmailing France with a microfilm list of World War II Vichy collaborators. Naturally it must be a "micro" film, 117 chortles; after all, it has to be a very small list! As his superior fidgets in awkward silence, 117 presses on, "Didn't General de Gaulle say all France resisted?" "He did, indeed," his boss replies uncomfortably. "Yes, he said that. Yep. ... "
Jean Dujardin, a brash comic who's a ringer for James Bond-era Sean Connery, is swell as Hubert. France's greatest spy is a narcissistic bourgeois blockhead who never met a foreigner he couldn't insult. From arrogance to xenophobia, he runs the gamut. When he teams up with some Israeli spies who are also on the trail of the fugitive, he uncorks a series of agonizingly embarrassing anti-Semitic gaffes and antagonizes beautiful agent Dolores Koulechov (Louise Monot), assuming she's on hand to take stenography. "I'm not your secretary," she bristles. Puzzled, he replies, "Whose, then?" When she proves immune to his animal magnetism, he pouts like an adolescent.
Director Michel Hazanavicius has fun with the yarn. He goes hog-wild with swingin' '60s split screens, dividing the frame into a sheet of postage stamps for no good reason. A hippie beach party introduces the staunchly heteronormative 117 to sexual liberation, and his smackdown with the Nazi's masked luchador bodyguard (Mexico, Brazil, what's the difference?) is a nicely choreographed spoof on pro wresting.
The climax is the film's greatest moment, a triple-scoop Hitchcock spoof of "Vertigo," "North by Northwest" and "Saboteur" set atop the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio. If it weren't padded out with sub-Mel Brooks gags involving a Robin Hood costume, a foulmouthed CIA station chief and a tedious slow-motion footrace, the film would be fleeter and funnier. They should have tightened the screws on this one before rolling it out.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186