Imagine: Sacha Baron Cohen playing Sean Connery with the sleuthing ability of Clouseau in an impeccably reconstructed James Bond satire by way of Team America — in French.
The title sequence of OSS 117 — inspired by Maurice Binder’s titles for Dr. No rather than those of the subsequent Bond movies — put a smile on my face that didn’t leave for the next 99 minutes.
Not only does Jean Dujardin recreate every Connery eyebrow raise and smirk but director Michel Hazanavicius follows the style and editing of an early 60s Bond movie with the precision that Scorsese mimicked Hitchcock in The Key to Reserva. A foot chase is edited so immaculately that it can make a joke out of a character’s lines of sight and lack of continuity. This is not only visual comedy but editorial comedy (the most pure form of cinematic humor?) combined in a silent sequence that is so well sustained it keeps getting funnier.
Above all of the film’s period delights, however, this is Jean Dujardin’s film. He commands the screen not only with every facial microexpression but with every studied movement of his whole body. Unlike Zoolander’s one-note posing-as-farce joke, Dujardin successfully exudes late 50s cool even while he sends up every narcissistic cuff-check, jacket-buttoning, and runwayesque head-turn (you know, the one right in front of the camera that acknowledges its presence by ignoring it so intently). Without a single pratfall, this is physical comedy at its most rarefied: physical satire.
And it is satire rather than mere parody, for every frame is a devastating but always gentle jab at pompous colonial attitudes and their close correspondence to Bond’s patronizing attitude towards women. Though the satirical element is always present and always clear, it succeeds most crucially in always staying funny where most attempts fail by eventually becoming too earnest.
Not only does this film make you realize the kind of movie Get Smart could and should have been (OSS 117 is itself a remake of a Bond-ripoff franchise from the 60s), it is the kind of movie I keep watching movies for: in the hope that I’ll stumble on little gems just like this. So I am thrilled that a sequel set in Rio de Janeiro is currently in post-production.