The movie spoof has fallen into such cosmically dire straits (Date Movie, Meet theSpartans, whatever's going to come out next month) that it can be hard to remember a time when they were actually fun to watch. Looking back to the Airplane and Top Secret! glory days, it becomes apparent that what mattered most, possibly even more than the actual jokes, was tone—specifically, the way that the actors never let on that they were appearing in something other than a legitimate movie. Once Leslie Nielsen dropped the poker face and started mugging for the camera in Naked Gun 2½, the dream was over.
The French import OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies gets this deadpan concept and runs with it, wonderfully. Both silly and canny, it affectionately locates and magnifies the absurdities of its chosen genre with nary an easy American Idol or Paris Hilton reference to be found.
Adapted from a long-running pulp series, the premise lifts off from what feels like a standard spy template: After saving the Allies' bacon in WW2, strapping secret agent OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) goes undercover in Cairo, a mission complicated by slumming Nazis, henchmen in fezzes, and ridiculously leggy dames. The wonky gadgets and casual chauvinism of the '60s Bond films may be old hat, but director Michel Hazanavicius generates such a rolling comedic momentum here—and a few genuinely ace retro action sequences—that he even gets you laughing at the stuff that Mike Meyers mugged into the ground. The ace in the deck proves to be Dujardin, a Patrick Warburtonish slab of beef who never drops character, no matter how outlandish the situation. Blithely, gloriously dim, he provides the lunkheaded centerpiece for what feels like the most breezily hilarious movie in ages. Even his teeth are funny, for Pete's sake.