OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies – a send up of 50s/60s spy movies centered on a French secret agent, who travels to Cairo to find out who killed his colleague. The brightest star of this is 117, the dim-witted spy (based on the Connery era Bond) who’s played superbly as a likable idiot by Jean Dujardin. He pulls off all of the jokes, centered around the chauvinism, cultural stereotyping and stupidity of ‘classic’ spy films. The riffs about Islam feel a bit risqué given what’s happened in the 10 years since this was made, but like Mel Brooks or Zucker Brothers films, the jokes are too surreal and innocent to take too much offence from – like the running gags about veal stew, flashbacks, and noisy chickens. The entire film looks and feels authentically 1960s, with very basic camera movements, a lovely ‘technicolour’ palette, and retro effects; matched with cracking kitsch sets, props, and costumes. As a comedy, this is sold: I chortled constantly through the first hour, and although it runs a tad flatter in the last 30 mins or so, it’s still more than entertaining enough. No doubt this plays better to French people, who will catch a lot of the ‘throwaway’ stuff; but still, OSS 117 Cairo, Nest of Spies is a delight to watch, expertly pairing both silly and smart gags, making it a must-see for Bond and Spy fans; particularly of things like The Naked Gun, Austin Powers, Danger 5, Pink Panther, Top Secret!, etc, etc
Chocolate: a retired loan shark falls ill, and her daughter goes out to get the money back to pay for the medical bills. Even though it’s clearly just an excuse for the action, the story is pretty bad, and was in the front seat for too long. Also the sooner Thailand realise that emotional scenes don’t have to feature slow motion filming and hammy cheap pop music, the better. What sets this film apart is the amazing action choreography, stunts and creative fighting. There’s five full-blown fights – Ice / Warehouse / Meat Factory / Showdown and Building – crammed with jaw dropping tricks and set pieces that most countries wouldn’t think about letting you try. As shown in the end credits the heroic (dumb) stuntmen here go through hell to get the perfect shot, and it pays off big time. Despite essentially having to play an autistic ninja, the lead girl does a stellar job and her stuntwork / fighting skills are immense – you can’t believe half of the things she’s doing. If you want to see a good story of vengeance and justice, Chocolate probably isn’t the best example, but if it’s insane stunts and action choreography a la Tony Jaa films, this hits the target.
The American: after a failed attempt on his life a master gunmaker accepts one final high-profile job, but must lay low and avoid other assassins. The plot’s a stripped down spy/thriller; almost like a bare-bones bond film – action, girls, locations… Clooney is fantastic for such a one-man show; all about the physical acting, but resists exaggeration – a massive pitfall when dialogue’s this sparse. The story and script are water-tight, every single line is spoken for a reason or explained later. The film’s extremely well-made, with lots of striking, bold and memorable shots/scenes and what little action unfolds is skillfully executed. It’s hard to miss the European style – down to the awesome nudity! – although the side-effect of such slow pacing is something that will alienate some viewers. it’s a great character piece, and Clooney keeps reminding us that he’s one of the finest, and most diverse, actors out there at the moment. Everything about the film is minimal, clean and genuinely believable – very enjoyable and rewarding.
Beast Cops: A bunch so-called ‘policemen’ (how they’re remained gainfully employed was the biggest plot hole) get a new boss that tries to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately this one takes about 50 minutes of 1-dimensional character-building before anything interesting happens; we got it after 5 minutes – there’s no honour among thieves in Hong Kong! The acting’s very hit-or-miss, ranging from subtly great to parodic overacting, and at times the script makes it feel like a sexual awareness campaign. Other than the lame credits the style’s quite slick and does a great job in distracting you from the plain story, however the main actors break the fourth wall several times, which is strange and unnecessary. The last fight is a pretty epic and brutal affair, and generally everyone in this film ends up getting a machete lodged in their neck at some point. To sum up, this is the epitome of a bog-standard Asian cop flick with a twist of ‘gritty street’ thrown in for good measure. Talks the talk all over the DVD box but fails to walk the walk.