Attention auteurs! You want to make a spoof? Watch OSS #117. It’s like a film school course in cinematic satire. Watch it, see what it does, and don’t do it. It breaks all the rules of satire. I never knew satire had rules, until I saw this movie. Now I know. Here they are:
Rule #1. Know what you’re making fun of. If you draw a caricature of Jimmy Durante, it should look like Jimmy Durante. You have to know how his skull works before you distort it and make fun of it. This flick riffs on the surface elements of the Cold War spy genre -- and gets it all wrong.
Rule #2. Love what you’re making fun of. Check out Young Frankenstein. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder clearly love old horror movies. Michel Hazanavicius, the politically correct director of this flick, clearly hates old spy movies.
Rule #3. An imitation of bad art, if it’s bad, is just bad art. The stuff you’re making fun of may be bad. Your stuff must be good. You can’t say, “Well, the scenes went on too long and the acting was bad in the original movies. Mine are too. It’s a satire.” No. You're just pretending to be bad. Your scenes have to work; your acting must be good.
Corollary to Rule #3: Art direction isn't comedy. Your sets and lighting may look exactly like what you're mocking. That doesn't make it funny.
Rule #4. Your story – even if it’s making fun of another story or genre – still has to work as a story. Consider Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks is, basically, taking a dump on the Western genre. Even so, his movie has dramatic tension. Joke or not, it grips you. When the Cisco Kid is facing off against six dudes with revolvers trained on him; when Black Bart is about to drown in quicksand or get lynched. You give a shit. OSS #117 is 99.44% suspense-free. You don't give a shit.
Rule #5. For your story to work, we have to understand what’s at stake. I have no !@#$ idea why OSS #117 is in Cairo.
Rule #6. Your characters have to be real. They have to have an inner life. They have to make sense. The spy in this flick grins like an idiot. (OSS #117--aka Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath--if you want a name.) He does stuff that doesn't make sense. Maxwell Smart really was an idiot. He survived, thanks to the luck of fools. This spy knows too much to be an idiot but he acts like an idiot. He shouldn't survive. I don't want him to. Worse than that, I don't believe in him. There are no point-of-view shots. There's no hint of a reality inside the character's head.
Rule #7. You can’t violate story logic or character logic. A French spy trained in Arabic wouldn’t beat up a muezzin who woke him up at the call to prayer in Cairo. Never happen. No !@#$ way. Yeah, it’s a dig at French colonialism – who cares? It’s contrived. It’s false. It just wouldn’t happen.
Rule #8. Your movie is a joke. The characters within your movie don’t know that. Your characters should take themselves and the reality of the movie absolutely seriously. You should too. Play it straight -- in all your acting, editing and music choices. Never elbow the audience in the ribs. Isn’t this funny? The second you ask, it ain't. This flick is constantly reminding me of how wacky it is.
Rule #9. Make one, big satiric point, then stop. Jimmy Durante’s nose is big. Ha-ha. If you try to make lots of little points, you weaken the comedy. Hey, our spy is an arrogant French colonialist. Oh, he’s also probably a closet homosexual. So, is this gay bashing, or spy bashing, or colonialist bashing, or what? It’s not funny anymore.
Rule #10. Never make us care about characters and then kill them for no good reason. Never ever have the hero do it, even if he is a shithead. Death can be hilarious – if you set it up right. But throwing characters away is ugly, vicious, heartless and the opposite of comedy. OSS #117 kills Princess Al Tarouk, if you want to know--pointlessly, right in the middle of a girlfight. I liked her character. I hated him. My dislike of the movie turned to hate at that moment.