Directed by Jean-Marie Poiré. Starring Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Christina Applegate, Lorenzo Clemons, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Tara Reid, Ric Sarabia, Malcolm McDowell. (2001, PG-13, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 6, 2001
An amiable American remake of a wildly popular French film (Les Visiteurs) that keeps the director and stars intact, Just Visiting isn't likely to win any awards stateside, but it does possess a silly charm which, coupled with Jean Reno's impassive growl, makes it somewhat more tolerable than you might expect. The original 1993 version was at the time the highest grossing film ever in its native country -- I haven't see it so I can't attest to its draws, but if the remake is any indication, the French are still in love with silly, Jerry Lewis-like hijinks. Pratfalls abound in this tale of Count Thibault (Reno), a medieval knight, and his dumb-as-dirt valet André (Clavier, who also co-wrote), who are magically transported to modern-day Chicago. On the eve of his marriage, Thibault falls victim to a plot which ends in his accidental killing of his betrothed (Applegate). McDowell's wizardry attempts to send them backward through “the mountain of time” in order to prevent the tragedy, but an error instead sends them forward into the future. There the pair meet up with museum director Julia Malfete (Applegate), the spitting image of Thibault's love and her sole remaining descendent. Married to a bullying schemer (Ross) who plans to sell off the Malfete family estate and run off with his secretary, Julia is a mousy blonde incapable of standing up for herself. This changes when she becomes the guardian of the strange pair and learns from Thibault that “the women of your family have always been lion-hearted.” Empowerment lessons aside, the errant knight must discover a way back to his own time and keep his valet in check (hard to do once they discover Armani) while assisting Julia with her own problems. Just Visiting piles on the fish-out-of-water gags at a steady pace and while some of them hit dead on, many of them topple with a resounding thud. A scene in which the visitors and their hosts dine at a four-star restaurant is well done (knowing his place as his master's property, André sits on the floor in the corner, gnawing Thibault's discards) while other jokes -- Thibault struggling to “free” the little people in the television, anything having to do with personal hygiene -- are old enough to have been buried decades ago. The film has a peculiar feel to it, as well, and though I'm tempted to call it a French sensibility, of sorts, I don't think that's it. It plays like an old TV movie of the week, circa 1985. The story is spelled out way in advance and there are precious few surprises. Likewise Applegate, Reid, and Billy Madison's Wilson (now Wilson-Sampras) offer more blond highlights than actual cinematic ones. For a time-travel picture, Just Visiting seems to have come straight out of Aaron Spelling's past, or maybe Garry Marshall's. Either way, it's too light on its feet to be taken with much more than a single grain of salt. That said, both Reno and Clavier are excellent. Reno manages to make Thibault entirely sympathetic while at the same time parodying his popular tough-guy persona. I was reminded of Clint Eastwood's attempts to do the same in the Any Which Way But Loose series -- Reno, for the record, does it better. Clavier, too, turns in a finely nuanced comic performance, if you can call his sweeping buffoonery nuanced. (I will.) Like Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness -- another broad time-travel farce -- this is a scattershot affair, though fans of Reno should find it engagingly loopy.