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An Inspector Clouseau With No Clue About Jews

May 27, 2010 By:
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Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin) and the Mossad agent who loathes him (Louise Monot), in "OSS 117: Lost in Rio"

License to ... kibitz?

OSS 117 is an odd job of a super spy, a male piggish espionage "expert" from France looking for ex-Nazis whose own self-resistance is nil; that's OK because 117 is a zed.

But writer Jean Bruce has his number, and the author of a series of books about this French foreign legume of an incompetent has made him a merry mishmash of Bond, Clouseau, Flint, Matt Helm -- hell, there's even a bit of Mel Gibson thrown in to create a character whose politically incorrect intellect has him tossing anti-Semitic sobriquets around with an insouciance (yet in-your-face insolence) to the Mossad spy who loathes him.

Indeed, the character's caricatures of Jews and Israelis -- just shy of a Shylock recreation -- is not so much an Achilles heel as a Goldfinger Nose.

And it is all very, very funny.

Now at the Ritz at the Bourse, "OSS 117: Lost in Rio" is springtime for Hitler and geography, as 117/Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin) joins Mossad agent Dolores (Louise Monot) in global runs, all in pursuit of an ex-Nazi whose cache of a microfilm contains the names of French collaborators during the war.

That must be one big microfilm.

As the totally oblivious (save for his own charms) 1967 sleazeball 117, de la Bath -- back from his last chaotic venture in Cairo -- makes Austin Powers appear empowered.

And as he faces his own challenges -- including a version of vertigo that has his mind reeling north by northwest -- 117 and his Mossad minx discover that there is life beyond the Third Reich -- with plans called for a Fifth Reich (somehow the Fourth Reich was passed over by what must have been a bad case of Nazi numerology).

But can 117 cope with the allures of Copacabana in tracking down the coterie of émigrés who make for a special South American Nazi society?

Fernando's Hideaway? More Himmler's
It is all enough to make the late Simon Wiesenthal wheeze with apoplexy.

(Ironically, Michel Hazanavicius, the film's writer and director, initially considered setting the flick in Israel the year of the Six-Day War, but was ultimately dissuaded by co-writer Jean-François Halin because, as Hazanavicius notes, "the parallel with the current conflict in Israel would have forced us to lose the naivété and the innocence this film needs.")

And for a film whose penultimate scene plays out with Christ the Redeemer a supporting character, as Rio roars its approval, "OSS 117" may be the first French collaboration about Nazis that is more Mel Brooks than it is Philippe Pétain. 

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