The main plot starts with the disappearances of an OSS agent, Jack Jefferson, and a Soviet cargo ship in Cairo. Agent OSS 117 is sent to investigate the events, since he and agent Jefferson share a history, shown in a short opening sequence and in flashbacks throughout the film. OSS 117 stumbles into a web of international intrigue, that involves the French, the Soviets, the British, separate factions of Egyptians, a goofy Belgian spy and even a splinter group of the Nazis from the beginning.
Throughout the film the main character has two main romantic interests. The first is an Egyptian princess Al Tarouk, who can't resist the charms of OSS 117. The second is the former assistant of Jack Jefferson, Larmina El Akmar Betouche, who at first shows no interest in the main character - and in fact temporarily becomes a secondary villain due to OSS 117's continued crass statements about her religion - but warms up to him in the end.
Hubert has woken up, having beaten up the muezzin during the night as he couldn't sleep with the noise.
Hubert: By the way, I was woken by a guy screaming on a tower. I couldn't sleep... I had to shut him up.
Larmina: A muezzin? You shut up a muezzin?
Larmina: ...Muezzin. He was calling for prayer.
Hubert: Oh, I didn't know. That's what the ruckus was. The screaming, the mike... Yours is a very strange religion. You'll grow tired of it.
At a Suez Canal panoramic view point
Hubert: It's breathtaking. I love panoramic views. This one is stunning. Your civilization truly is grandiose! To build this 4000 years ago was visionary.
Larmina: The Suez Canal was built 86 years ago.Jean Dujardin as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, AKA OSS 117
Philippe Lefebvre as Jack Jefferson
Claude Brosset as Armand Lesignac
Éric Prat as Gilbert Plantieux
Aure Atika as Princess Al Tarouk
Bérénice Bejo as Larmina El Akmar Betouche
François Damiens as Raymond Pelletier
Constantin Alexandrov as Ieveni Setine
Laurent Bateau as Nigel Gardenborough
Richard Sammel as Gerhard Moeller
Said Amadis as Egyptien spokesman
Youssef Hamid as the imam
Khalid Maadour as the man following OSS 117
Arsène Mosca as Loktar,
Abdallah Moundy as Slimane
Alain Khouani as the hotel receptionist
The film is a continuation of the OSS 117 series of spy films from the 1950s and 1960s, which were in turn based on a series of novels by Jean Bruce, a prolific French popular writer. However, instead of taking the genre seriously, the film parodies the original series and other conventional spy and Eurospy films, most noticeably the early James Bond series right down to the cinematography, art direction, music and costume of the 1960s (although this is a slight anachronism as the film is stated in dialogue to be set in 1955, hence a sequence where OSS 117 briefly dances the twist is out of place). For example, driving scenes are all filmed with obvious rear projection, night scenes were clearly shot during the day with a blue filter and camera movements are simple, and avoid the three-dimensional Steadycam and crane movements that are easily accomplished today. The scene at the Cairo airport was filmed in the entrance hall of a campus of Panthéon-Assas University.
The main character in the OSS 117 series is a secret agent of the Office of Strategic Services, Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, also known by his code name OSS 117. The character is played by French actor Jean Dujardin, and he is supported in the film by Bérénice Bejo. The film's sequel is OSS 117: Lost in Rio, and Dujardin, Bejo and director Michel Hazanavicius would later reunite for the Academy Award-winning The Artist, a film that, like Cairo, Nest of Spies, pays tribute to a past genre of filmmaking.
The film won the Golden Space Needle award as the most popular film of the Seattle International Film Festival and the Tokyo Grand Prix award given to the best film at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2006. It was relatively successful at the box office in France, with an attendance figure of over 2 million. Due to the film's performance, a 2009 sequel has been made titled OSS 117: Lost in Rio.
Critics outside France gave the film positive to average reviews. As of June, 2009, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 76% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 58 reviews, making the film a "Certified Fresh" on the website's rating system. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 62 out of 100, based on 20 reviews. In the UK, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film particular praise, citing a "far higher comedy-factor than the dull Get Smart, and the most lovingly detailed period pastiche since Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven."