Friday April 6, 2001
Truly it is a peculiar curse upon the world, this high-concept joke that refuses to die. One speaks of the story of a brave, bold French knight who mistakenly takes a potion intended for his betrothed and commits murder. Sentenced to die, he then takes a potion from a dotty old wizard that lands him and his wretched, smelly servant in contemporary times. In said era, the pair are then predictably overmatched by such phenomena as indoor plumbing, Range Rovers and tiny people trapped inside a box with a glass window. You know it better as the TV set.
Which may have been the proper place for a new version of Jean-Marie Gaubert's 1993 comedy, "The Visitors," in which Jean Reno played the noble knight and Christian Clavier (who helped Gaubert dream up the idea) his pet peasant. The movie managed to be a huge success everywhere but in the States, which has seen such fish-out-of-water ideas played out for decades in dozens of family-friendly sitcoms.
If this story's makers really wanted to connect with America, they could have done worse than having Reno and Clavier stumble through the heartland's malls and freeways on prime time, coping week-to-week with mobsters, digital banking and other scourges.
But they did do worse. They made "Just Visiting," which, with the help of "Home Alone's" screenwriter John Hughes, drains the original story of its satire and juices up its shtick, schmaltz and special effects.
Instead of landing in a commercialized version of his old castle, Reno's knight, here called Thibault of Malfete, ends up in Chicago where he and Clavier's wretched Andre run into Julia Malfete (Christina Applegate), the knight's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, who just happens to be the staff medievalist at a local museum. She's inexplicably engaged to a controlling barracuda (Matthew Ross), who exists for no other reason except to give the multiplex mob someone to hiss at.
At least, there aren't as many gratuitous body-odor jokes as there were in the original, though the other jokes aren't much more subtle and not at all original except to a 9-year-old boy who's hearing his first toilet jokes out of Mom's earshot. Guess that's OK, since 9-year-old boys have as much right to their movies as Andre has to blow his mad money on threads with a fetching servant-next-door ("Josie and the Pussycats' " Tara Reid).
With little going for it besides bells, gongs and grossness, "Just Visiting" may not pull this concept over the top with Americans. But in the unlikely event that it does become a sitcom, one hopes its producers have the sense to keep Reno and Clavier, as well as Malcolm McDowell's dotty wizard, if for no other reason than to give him more to do than he has here.
Just Visiting, 2001. Rated PG-13 for violence and crude humor. Gaumont presents, in association with Hollywood Pictures, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director Jean-Marie Gaubert. Executive producer Richard Hashimoto. Screenplay by Christian Clavier & Jean-Marie Poire & John Hughes, based on the film "Les Visiteurs," written by Jean-Marie Poire & Christian Clavier. Cinematographer Ueli Steiger. Editor Michael A. Stevenson. Costume designer Penny Rose. Music John Powell. Production designer Doug Kraner. Art director John D. Jeffries Sr. Set decorator Tracey Doyle. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Jean Reno as Thibault. Christina Applegate as Rosalind/Julia. Christian Clavier as Andre. Matthew Ross as Hunter. Tara Reid as Angelique.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times