Taking French cinema's once much-loved 60s superspy and turning him into a politically incorrect figure of fun, a lot of the historical injokes do get lost in translation, but there's enough going on that's funny enough in its own Austin Powers fashion to make this well worth a look.
Although often regarded as just another Continental Bond ripoff, Jean Bruce published the first of his 91 OSS 117 novels in 1949 long before Ian Fleming reached for his Book of British Birds, and the first of seven `straight' adaptations was made in 1956, six years before Sean Connery was fitted for his tux. Later entries in the series got Frederick Stafford the lead in Hitchcock's Topaz and John Gavin the role of James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever - well, at least until Connery decided to come back after all. But this isn't the Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, aka agent OSS 117 of Bruce's novels. In this 2006 comedy, the character has been turned into a walking criticism of outdated colonial attitudes: he's ridiculously overconfident, has questionable flashbacks of happier days with his dead sidekick on the beach, loves to fight, hates dust, can't understand why Arabs would make up their own language and religion, hands out photographs of the French president to locals as tips and ferments an uprising when he stops a Muezzin from making the call to prayer because it's interrupting his sleep. Smug, xenophobic and pig ignorant, he's the kind of man who'll take an insult for a compliment because he doesn't understand it. Like Inspector Clouseau he's completely unaware that he's an idiot, which is why the character works so well. Behind his blundering ignorance is a mockery of France's colonial past and western arrogance: his attitudes and certainties are as hopelessly outdated as they are delusionally overoptimistic
It doesn't hurt that he looks the part. With leading man good looks and a suit that could have been swiped from Connery's You Only Live Twice wardrobe, Jean Dujardin is exactly the kind of type who would have been cast in a serious OSS 117 film in the 60s. And this really looks like it could have been shot then - the look of the film is spot-on, with its wonky backprojection and that ever-so-slightly-faded colour that was a feature of many early 60s continental Scope films, while the production design looks just like a mid-60s film's idea of the mid-50s.
With so much attention going to the central character and recreating the Sixties style, the plot is pretty slight - it's mainly a chance for Bath to proudly flaunt his ignorance while poking fun at spy movie clichés, Nazis and chickens (the source of the film's best running gag) - and the film itself is often more amusing than laugh out loud funny. But after a slowish start it becomes rather infectiously likeable, and it's worth seeing for Dujardin's rendition of an Arabic version of Bambino alone - it's a real showstopper in the very best sense of the word!
Unfortunately, the ICA's UK DVD is a bit disappointing compared to the Australian release - the film is a barebones release with none of the extras on other territories' DVD issues of the film, with only a widescreen transfer of the film. Unfortunately the burned-in unremoveable subtitles aren't on the black border of the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer but actually over the picture area itself, which is an occasional nuisance, especially when it ruins one smutty sight gag with Bath cocking a pistol.