Those who bemoan the state of the English-language spoof film will be both disappointed and assured to find out that efforts from foreign shores are no less banal. OSS 117: Lost In Rio (Rio Ne Répond Plus) is the second in a successful (in France) series of spy movie pastiches, that stars Jean Dujardin as the farcical international special agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath.
OSS 117 enters an arena filled with plenty of misses and a few hits, with characters that have maintained a profile despite diluted returns and eventual self-parody. Hubert is not the equal of Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, Frank Drebin, or prime Austin Powers, but that is not the fault of Dujardin, who grins and smarms his way through the role, barrel-chested and broad-browed, evoking a winking Gene Kelly, a smouldering Warren Beatty and a wild, fist-first Brando in a cheeky mash-up.
No, the problems with Lost In Rio are deep-set, in the plot and script. Hubert’s mission to Brazil is flimsy nonsense, merely a mechanic to move around what few jokes, set-pieces and characters the writers could come up with.
Rio is home to an exiled Nazi, multiple Mossad agents, a hippy commune and an endless supply of vengeful Chinese crooks. The Nazis want to build a Fourth Reich, the Israelis want the Nazis brought to trial, the hippies want to love freely and snaffle LSD, and the Chinese want to kill OSS 117 after a suitably over-the-top prologue sequence, where the agent was interrupted in flagrante with an Oriental countess by plentiful pesky henchmen.
Alongside these there is CIA agent Bill Trumendous (get it?), who grins, guffaws, sweats and – bafflingly – speaks in heavily accented French, while periodically dropping into foul-mouthed English (‘you motherfucker!’).
That’s a fine collection of archetypes, caricatures and exaggerated stock characters, but Lost In Rio doesn’t function well as either a comedy or an adventure pastiche. Where the Naked Gun films were overflowing – to a fault – with mad ideas and jokes, and Austin Powers had both one-liners and a suitably chipper concept, Lost In Rio is less la folie and more pure folly, with heavy handed gags that adhere to the a self-aware, ironic un-PC comedy style.
You see, Hubert isn’t a lovable dunce like Clouseau, who, in the best Pink Panther films, seemed like a pratfalling clown lost in a genuine detective thriller. He is just plain idiotic, racist and insensitive. Judging by the over-long reaction shots, and the great lengths that the other characters go to call him up on his transgressions, this is the film’s attempt to extract a chuckle from your gut while maintaining a patronising distance from its source.
It’s a shame, really, because among the wreckage, there are glimmers of potential in the property. The direction from Michel Hazanavicius is constantly perky, full of barmy cutaways and wipes that chop up the world in an equally stylish way to the nicely kitsch production design. Likewise, gunfight scenes are a riot, with acrobatic stuntmen, disintegrating sets and Dujardin standing stock still in the midst of the chaos.
It’s a lot of cocked-eyebrow, and not a hint of any real substance. Lost In Rio just doesn’t have enough ideas to be interesting, enough gags to be amusing, or enough narrative to be engaging. So, despite production flourishes and a good, if entirely mishandled lead, this is stagnant, torturous fluff.
The first film, Nest Of Spies (Le Caire, Nid D’espions), was seen by over two million French cinemagoers, yet barely made a splash abroad, and, judging by the uninspiring, unimaginative efforts of its sequel, that sequence will not be broken.