The outrageous espionage of OSS 117 returns. By CALEB STARRENBURG.

HEíS FRANCEís top agent. His name is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, better known as OSS 117, a spy whose prominent jawbone is matched only by his bloated ego. And heís the absurd secret weapon that makes this spy-thriller parody and delicious satire of Gallic arrogance so ridiculously entertaining. OSS 117: Lost in Rio is the second film by director Michel Hazanavicius that lift its protagonist from a series of 1950s pulp novels.

The first, Cairo, Nest of Spies, had OSS 117 (which he insists is pronounced one hundred and seventeen) traveling to Egypt to defeat Franceís legion of foreign enemies (and insult its allies along the way). This time around itís 1967 and heís jetting off to Brazil to reclaim a microfilm containing the names of countrymen who collaborated with the Nazis. Of course, heís surprised such people exist, but heíll do what he has to protect their identities. After all, fighting the fascists is a lot of fun and a great way to meet women, even if he is nonplussed by that ideology stuff.

Pretty soon La Bath finds himself mixed up with revenge seeking communists (or Chinamen as he calls them), an old colleague from the CIA and a beautiful Mossad agent tracking down a Nazi general. Thrown in for good measure are a couple of angry luchadores, a hippy cult and man-eating alligator, which remarkably finds the filmís narrative more coherent than its predecessor. Despite its farcical premise this isnít so much a French Austin Powers as it is homage to spy films of the Cold War era. In many ways OSS 117 plays like a rediscovered film reel from a time long passed.

Everything from the grainy celluloid to snappy edits and shameful dialogue is recreated with loving reverence for the period. The humour is deliberately offensive and decisively mocking. Our spy throws about racial epithets with an unknowing abandon and displays the same sort of vain confidence in his own abilities, and the inferiority of others, that saw two French agents captured by a neighbour watch group following the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

Jean Dujardin is intoxicating to watch as OSS 117. His perfectly manicured eyebrows are permanently arched in an expression of suave self adoration and blissful ignorance. Yet, unlike that other dim-witted French creation Inspector Jacques Clouseau, somehow Dujardin never crosses the line into irritating. Perhaps itís because his characater isnít so much as a mean-spirited dunce, as socially naÔve. If the world is changing then no one told La Bath. As far as heís concerned, the sun shines only on the land of le coq gaulois, where women still wear dresses and work the kitchen. When our spy first meets Mossadís attractive Lieutenant-Colonel Koulechov (Louise Monot) he mistakes her for his secretary. Heís even more perplexed by her ability to withstand his charm.

If the film is less subtle than Cairo, Nest of Spies (which wasnít in any way restrained) itís deliberately so. Everything in this sequel is ratcheted up to the next level of ludicrous. Lost in Rio is the most entertaining French comedy to hit our shores in some time, and perhaps one of the most enjoyable comedies period. Letís hope this isnít the last outing in the OSS series. Thereís a lot of life left in this secret agent.