Ian Fleming brought James Bond into existence in 1953, but French author Jean Bruce cranked out no less than 88 espionage pulp novels about Agent 117, or Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, four years before Fleming’s agent donned his signature tuxedo. In 2006, with all the dim wits and none of the gravity of Bond, OSS 117 returned.
Tasked with making peace in the Middle East, OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”) is sent to Egypt to track down a missing arms shipment and find out what happened to his best special agent friend, Jack. Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Berenice Bejo, “The Search”) keeps him on his toes, helping him navigate Egypt and its people, no matter how buffoonish he gets.
Dujardin plays OSS 117 with the mugging confidence of a young Connery and the utter ineptitude of “The Naked Gun”’s Lt. Frank Drebin . Unaware at all times of the world around him, Hubert is dim witted in the worst ways.
Bejo plays the perfect foil, stone-faced against his frequent terrible puns and firm when he’s ignorant. The movie plays out in the spirit of “Airplane!” with rapid fire visual and running gags. Where the movie really finds its spirit is in the physical comedy. For viewers who have watched any pre-Bruce Lee action flicks, the fight scenes here have more shattering furniture and broken bottles than “From Russia with Love.”
But that manic energy can only be sustained for so long. While the gags are often inspired and the acting pitch perfect, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” drags on for too long, even at a tight 98 minutes. Short and sweet would have worked better here.
Before that happens, the laughs come quick and fast. Especially for fans of the goofball comedies and special agent flicks of old, there’s a good time to be had. Just don’t expect OSS 117 to get the joke, too.