OSS 117: Lost in Rio

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/25/10 23:47:36

"Rio" is no "Cairo", but is still nice to visit."
3 stars (Average)

I was pretty fond of filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius's previous comedic revival of the OSS 117 franchise and character ("Cairo, Nest of Spies"); it did a lot of things right and did them in ways that an American audience almost certainly wouldn't expect. The followup, "Lost in Rio", isn't bad; it remains amiable and funny despite stumbling into most of the traps waiting for comedy sequels.

This time around, it is 1967, and after a mission "protecting" a Chinese princess in Gstaad, France's top secret agent, OSS agent 117 Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin), is being dispatched to Rio de Janeiro. Escaped Nazi Doktor Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler) is blackmailing France with a strip of microfilm that contains the name of wartime collaborators, and Hubert is being sent to pay him off. Of course, he's not the only secret agent on his way there - there's his American comrade Bill Trumendous (Ken Samuels), beautiful Mossad agent Delores Koulechov (Louise Monot), and a whole slew of Chinese assassins, whose involvement Hubert can't quite figure. Their best lead is Heinrich Von Zimmel (Alex Lutz), the Doktor's hippie son.

Early on in the previous movie, we learned that Hubert was a bit past being a politically incorrect guy who liked the ladies; the version in this film series is casually sexist and racist, and utterly oblivious to just how insulting his off-hand comments are. It was surprising at first, but also a deviously reflexive joke, the hero of a revived franchise serving as a rebuke to nostalgia - a reminder that in the simpler times people supposedly pined for, that sort of behavior was common. It's not quite such an effective bit in a sequel, especially since Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-François Halin are a bit more clumsy with it; rather than settling for the awkward pauses and looks, the joke is drawn out, occasionally too far.

That's predictable, because it's the pattern for sequels to comedic movies. Sequels are about giving the audience more of what they liked before, both in terms of a second helping and the portion being bigger, and that predictability runs counter to how comedy should throw the audience off balance. So everything gets a little broader and more exaggerated (has any character ever gotten smarter between a comedy and its sequel?), and a character who started out as offensive, but still kind of competent, becomes a bit more of a buffoon. A character who had been outwardly suave but surprisingly uncool becomes a dork who occasionally pulls something off.

Fortunately, Jean Dujardin is able to make both sorts of characterization work; even when the movie is overdoing a joke, he isn't, and his conviction in what he says is generally as low-key as it is unwarranted. It's a variety of of unflappability that is frequently hilarious, with just enough genuine charm that the movie doesn't become an hour and a half with someone who does nothing but irritate you. He gets and sells most of the jokes; and does so with style. Louise Monot mostly fills the job of looking beautiful but irritated.

There are still plenty of jokes in the film, and the majority hit their marks. Hazanavicius and company are much more solidly in Austin Powers territory here (the funny first one), having fun spoofing the spy flicks of a different decade (Cairo, Nest of Spies was more 50s than 60s). There are funny bits with the garish colors and use of split-screens, and know when to pull back from the skewering to show some affection. The comic timing is generally very good, with the final take on one of the film's running jokes especially clever.

The IMDB shows Hazanavicius, Dujardin, and company working on a third installment, and that one quite frankly worries me. "Lost in Rio" is wobbly where "Cairo, Nest of Spies" was solid; not quite at the point of repeating jokes and expecting the audience to laugh from familiarity, but not springing delightfully mean surprises on us, either.

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