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'Just Visiting'

French comedy comes back just as obnoxious

Friday, April 06, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

I was going to blame Disney for the overproduced mess that is "Just Visiting," but it turns out the Mouse House didn't make the film, it merely distributed the movie here in the States -- as if that isn't bad enough.

'Just Visiting'

RATING: PG-13, for violence and crude humor.

PLAYERS: Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Christina Applegate.

DIRECTOR: Jean-Marie Gaubert.



Like an obnoxious house guest who keeps showing up at your door, "Just Visiting" is a remake of "Les Visiteurs," the all-time box-office champ in France -- same stars, same director, same sight gags and more. Too much, as it turns out.

You may remember the stench left behind by the original film when it played at the Three Rivers Film Festival in 1996 (mercifully, a sequel -- part deux? -- bypassed us). This time, only the names have been changed to protect the culpable. That goes for the characters and even the director, Jean-Marie Poire, who for unexplained reasons is billed here as Jean-Marie Gaubert (but his screenplay credit still goes to Poire).

The movie begins in the 12th century, when the heroic Count Thibault of Malfete (Jean Reno) falls victim to a witch's potion that causes hallucinations resulting in the death of his intended bride, Rosalind (Christina Applegate). He gets a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) to cook up an elixir that will send him back in time so he can reverse the fatal action.

But the wiz miscalculates and Thibault, with his vassal Andre (Christian Clavier), ends up in modern-day Chicago, where they meet Thibault's descendant Julia Malfete, a dead-ringer for Rosalind (Applegate plays both roles). The movie doesn't answer how Thibault can have a descendant when he killed his bride before the wedding, much less the consummation.

As in "Les Visiteurs," Thibault and Andre spend much of the film wreaking havoc on the conveniences of contemporary life. They carve up a car with their swords, try to rescue the people "trapped" inside a television set, eat steaks with their bare hands in a fancy restaurant -- Thibault tosses scraps to Andre on the floor, the servant not being worthy to sit at the table.

And, inevitably, they discover indoor plumbing, offering bathroom humor in its most literal sense.

OK, but we expected that. The filmmakers, however, don't seem to think that slapstick and potty gags are enough. So they throw in every other trick in the cinematic bag, whether or not it fits.

A narrator who tells us nothing we can't see or hear disappears five minutes into the movie. The 12th-century sequences are filled with jarring 21st-century computer-animated special effects (the monsters Thibault sees after drinking the witch's potion, the time-travel moments).

Once in Chicago, the special effects are mostly forgotten while Thibault and Andre exhume every fish-out-of-water joke ever conceived. It ends, of course, with a chase scene -- the cops crashing their cars in pursuit of Thibault and Andre on horseback.

The result all but defines the term situation comedy, a form that attempts to generate laughs by placing the characters in an unfamiliar and often embarrassing predicament. The individuals don't matter, only the setting. The people are all but interchangeable. Thibault and Andre could just as easily be Tom and Jerry, Laverne and Shirley or any two of the Three Stooges. The jokes are basically the same -- and just as lame.

Even the villains are made of pasteboard -- Hunter (Matt Ross), Julia's yuppie fiance, and Amber (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), the sinuous sexpot with whom he is conniving. Hunter plans to run off with her after sharing in the wealth after he gets Julia to sell off her (and Thibault's) ancestral estate.

Only after the movie runs out of slapstick and bathroom jokes does it begin to develop the characters. The film improves as a result, but by then it's too late.

As Thibault, Reno manages to retain some dignity amid the pratfalls. Clavier, on the other hand, mugs it up for everything he's worth. Applegate is so mousy you'd never dream she was the sexpot from "Married ... with Children." Ross comes off as the poor man's Jay Mohr -- now there's a career move. Wilson-Sampras can play haughty insincerity in her sleep. McDowell's wizard looks like an albino Zippy with a long white mustache. Tara Reid is a free spirit as the woman who falls for Andre, of all people, trying to convince him that people everywhere just want to be free.

As for me, I'd settle for being freed from any more versions of "Les Visiteurs."

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