OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus

OSS 117: Rio ne répond plusSummary: When outrageously chauvinistic French secret agent OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) journeys to Cold War-era Rio de Janeiro to recover a top-secret microfilm, gorgeous Israeli Nazi-hunter Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot) joins in the quest. But as the pair zero in on their quarry, the hapless Frenchman’s disdain for Koulechov’s gender and nationality threaten their mission. Michel Hazanavicius directs this delightful parody of James Bond-esque films.

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OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus 7.0

eyelights: its editing. its plot.
eyesores: its racism. its limited supply of laughs. its visual palette.

“I’m a remedy against barbarism”

I’m a huge fan of ‘OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espion‘. Though I was then unfamiliar with the original films, let alone the novels, I saw in it a spoof of the early James Bond movie, starring Sean Connery – except with an utterly moronic egotist named Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath instead.

I have a blast every time I watch it. I’m enough of a fan, in fact, that I even sought the original action-adventure film series, produced by André Hunebelle. I ordered that from France, seeing as it’s not available here, and even did the same with ‘Caire’s sequel, ‘Rio ne répond plus’.

(For those taking notes, the Canadian DVD/BD was cropped from 2.39:1 to 1.79:1 and the US ones didn’t have all the special features of the French one…)

Sadly, this second film in the spy comedy series is about as bland as the original was vibrant and fresh: it riffs on previous gags in an uninspired fashion and brings very little that’s new to the table – aside for a brand new setting (i.e. Rio instead of Cairo, and the ’60s instead of the ’50s).

In ‘Rio ne répond plus’, OSS 117 is sent to Brazil to exchange a large sum of money for a microfilm of French Nazi sympathizers. While he’s there, he gets attacked by Chinese agents, is befriended by a vulgar CIA agent, and helps a beautiful Mossad agent track down some war criminals.

It’s really hard to understand what the filmmakers were trying to do with this picture. One gets the impression that they weren’t content or were too uninspired to continue in the same vein as ‘Le Caire, nid d’espions’, and decided to transplant OSS 117 into a different era for a change.

Unfortunately, part of the original’s charm is the fact that it’s set in the late ’50s-early ’60s: it’s about the look of the film, the architecture, the fashion, the music, the mores, …etc. By diving into the late-’60s instead, everything is different, down to the cheesy fashion and yellow palette.

Even OSS 117 seems out of place; here he’s not just out of touch, he’s anachronistic.

The one huge positive of the new setting is in the filmmakers’ decision to emulate the editing style of the era, using multiple frames to showcase multiple images at once; it rendered the film more dynamic – especially since they employed modern technology to jazz up the technique further.

I really liked that. It was a blast to watch.

But a movie it does not make. Though ‘Rio ne répond plus’ is perfectly fine from a purely technical standpoint, it lacks the original’s spirit; one quickly gets the impression that the filmmakers had to put a lot of effort into making it. And nothing kills comedy more than endless toil.

What we are left with are a series of joyless moments that, strangely enough, frequently involve all sorts of prejudices. And while ‘Caire’ made fun of the French colonialism this way, in ‘Rio’ the racism is so flagrant that it can no longer pass for social commentary; it’s just racist.

Period.

A perfect example of the extent of the bigotry is a scene in which OSS 117 is caught in an elevator between German and Chinese agents and he makes non-stop racist comments against the Chinese to make the Germans laugh. The “joke” here were the slurs themselves, not the situation.

The only way you can appreciate that scene is if you find those racist jokes funny.

Basically, ‘Rio’ panders to racists.

There was also a dubious scene at the end, when the Nazi villain makes a Shylock-esque speech (“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”). I couldn’t help but wonder if the filmmakers were actually trying to sympathize with the Nazis. Or were they satirizing them? I could no longer tell by then.

So, while I gave the film a pass in its initial stages, it grew more and more offensive to me – irrespective of the target of its prejudice, whether it be Chinese, German, Jews or women. I did get a good laugh out of the absurdity of OSS 117 being chased by a couple of luchadores, though.

It was such an absurd sight and concept (I guess they were real “hoods”!).

Meanwhile, the Americans were poked fun of in an irreverent way via an agent who punctuates by cursing: “What are you doing here, bastard?” he might ask OSS 117. Or he might casually exclaim “Here, shithead!”, as he drops him off. It’s merely a caricature, not a cruel or demeaning joke.

The filmmakers were at such a loss trying to make this picture entertaining that they even resorted to nudity and scatological humour – for lack of cleverness. They also added a recurring subplot of OSS 117 getting vertigo as a kid when his circus acrobat family died in a fall from a trapeze.

And yet, he didn’t have vertigo in ‘Caire’. WTF.

Look, ‘Rio ne répond plus’ doesn’t remotely degenerate to the degree that ‘Austin Powers 2‘ did in comparison to its own predecessor; it’s at least a competent film. But it’s nothing of the zesty, mordant concoction that Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-François Halin and Jean Dujardin created.

With ‘Rio’, they lost their way.

Date of viewing: July 30, 2016

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