Just Visiting (2001) **
Directed by Jean-Marie Poiré aka Jean-Marie Gaubert. Written by Poiré , Christian Clavier, John Hughes. Photography, Ueli Steiger. Cast: Jean Reno (Count Thibault), Christian Clavier (André the servant), Christina Applegate (Julia Malfete), Malcolm McDowell (the wizard), et al. A France-USA coproduction by Gaumont. 88 minutes. PG-13
In 1993, the French comedy "The Visitors" became the most profitable French film ever. It dealt with a 12th century nobleman (Jean Reno) and his servant (Christian Clavier) getting magically transported into modern France. "The Visitors 2, " by the same writer-director and leading actors, followed and bombed. Now the Count and his servant are resurrected in "Just Visiting," a remake of the first film, but this time the medieval characters are transported to today's Chicago.
"Just Visiting" is in English. It was released first in the USA in early April 2001, and soon after, in France, as "Les Visiteurs en Amérique."
And it's pretty weak. I won't go into the so-called plot. It hurt enough to watch much of it without hurting again by describing it in print.
Time-travel movies come in many shapes. They can range from poor (many titles) to pleasantly innocuous funny stuff (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) to smart, entertaining but "serious" items such as The Time Machine and the superior Time After Time. The current item is a comedy-farce.
The main actors have a vague, burlesque kinship to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. On the plus side we get some good special effects, transformations, morphings and the like; some lush -- if totally false-- medieval spectacles; a couple of nice minutes of salsa; etc.
Those are minor aspects. What we get overwhelmingly is an avalanche of physical gags of which pitifully few are well thought out. The great majority of them deals with body parts and functions. It's bathroom, toilet, scatological humor.
"Just Visiting" is, of course, not a screwball comedy any more than items with the Three Stooges are. Consequently the actors perform in forced and sweeping ways--which is to be expected.
I cannot speak in comparatie terms about Christian Clavier (André, the servant), who also co-wrote the script. He is a popular French comedian with whom I am not familiar.
Jean Reno, however was the stylized hitman in another French production by Gaumont, "The Professional" (1994), shot and set in New York City. It was a good movie which got better when its French release added almost about a half hour of footage removed from the US version. Otherwise, Reno's several roles in European films are unknown in the USA, except for sharp-eyed viewers who might spot him in the bit role of a hitman in "La Femme Nikita" (1990), and for those who have seen the misguided action pic "Ronin" (1998) where he was second banana to ) where he was second banana to Robert De Niro.
Christina Applegate became a star as the dynamite sexy but dumb schoolgirl in TV's 1987 series "Married... With Children" when she was about 16, and very pretty. She played her stupidity with intelligence. Since then Ms Applegate has been in several movies, none of them memorable so far as I know. In "Just Visiting" she does what she can with her part, is not as beautiful as in her TV days, and not one-hundredth as funny.
Malcolm McDowell plays the Wizard with the same freneticism as most of the other cast members. He gets to act in broadly farcical ways, grimaces and all (like much of the cast), and to perform magic. His scenes are even more incredible than the average ones in the movie. McDowell's early movie career (late 60s to early 80s) was a triumph which included the lead role in classic works. He was the lead player in Lindsay Anderson's "If," in Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," in the undervalued "Time after Time" (as H.G. Wells),and others. Now poor Malcolm is not even listed in the credits of many of the "Just Visiting" reviews.
Even in movie fantasies there should be a method in their madness, a logic within the illogic. This is lacking here. Example: when Andre and a girl go on a shopping spree for clothes, how do they pay for them? In a drinking scene, how come the Americans who join the French in singing, sing....in French. How does the wizards' heavy-duty magic equipment get into his hotel room? Etc. etc. etc.
Perhaps this is nit-picking on my part. Some of those objections may have lent themselves to suspension of disbelief -- as for instance in practically all movies with Danny Kaye. But there is too large an accumulation of them and not enough good stuff to compensate for the bad.
No doubt, I did laugh at some bits. This accounts for my generous one-and-a-half stars. I am almost certain that kids who, like most normal people, are at the inevitable stage of relishing body gags, will give the film a higher grade than mine.
PS. The director and co-writer is Jean-Marie Poiré who sometimes uses the name Jean-Marie Gaubert. Why? No idea, but that's HIS problem. J-M is not woman as some Anglophones might think. Jean, means John, Juan, and such.
Double or hyphenated first names are common in France. Think Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Philippe Mathy. Note too that following the hyphen, a name like Marie does not feminize its bearer.
Jean-Marie Whatever started out as a screenwriter for others, then wrote and directed his own movies. Few, if any, are known in the USA other than the first "The Visitors."