Just Visiting Movie Review

In 1993, director Jean-Marie Poiré created a small comedy sensation about two 12th century Frenchmen (played by Jean Reno and popular French comic actor Christian Clavier) who are mistakenly transported to the modern world. The film made nearly $100 million worldwide and was never released theatrically in the US.

It's eight years later, and Poiré has directed another small comedy about two 12th century Frenchmen (hmm, played by Jean Reno and that same popular French guy) who are mistakenly transported to Chicago 2000. Hey, wait a minute!

Clearly, the folks at Buena Vista saw a chance to make up for previous mistakes, and release Les Visiteurs, but hell, wouldn't an American version be so much, you know, better? The result of this head scratching exercise is a light, average, and flavorless mini-comedy.

The concept certainly holds up, and there is a goofy joy in watching Reno and Clavier jaunt about, alternately confident and terrified. They destroy an SUV (it was a postal truck in the original), only to find that riding in the backseat of one of these "chariots" causes nausea at a mere 22 mph.

They're astounded by electricity, suburban homes, and bathing. And even though, with that simple head start, you could probably write the gags yourself, the duo drum up the occasional chuckle anyway.

Luckily, Poiré follows an important rule of comedy. Tell the joke and get out fast. If the laugh bombs, you've moved on, and if it kills, you leave the audience wanting more. The director keeps a zippy pace early, keeping the simple story buoyant enough to hold interest.

But as our story heads toward important-lesson-land (Freedom is good! So is capitalism! So are girls!!!), the gags grow a little tired and the movie flattens out to feel like a syndicated TV series.

What's annoying about this version is that it's been dumbed down for American audiences. The French original commented on social classes and history, while this version aims more toward lighter-headed teens (two that I spoke with after the film thought it was very good). It favors sweet and simple over sharp and biting.

You can thank 80s zeitgeist master John Hughes for that, who wrote the screenplay from the original by Poiré and Clavier. As usual, he keeps a light mood with just a touch of sentiment -- a perfect combination to keep the kids happy, sometimes at the expense of us adults. Oh, and he also gives us his trademark, tiresome, countless Chicago exteriors.

One consistent bright spot in Just Visiting is Christina Applegate, playing dual roles as a 12th century bride and her modern-day descendant. She adds a sweet sincerity to the mayhem, and it would be wonderful to see her in more romantic comedy leads, rather than some of the window dressing that have been passing for actresses lately.

As for Reno and Clavier, how many times are they going to put on the armor? After the original, there was a poorly performing sequel in 1998, and now this. They appear to be having fun, but they do give off the vibe that they've done this before. And not in English.

The sign says Pull.


Just Visiting Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2001


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