Just Visiting

on April 06, 2001 by Christine James
   The warmly riotous 1993 French comedy "Les Visiteurs" was met with the usual cricket-chirpingly empty auditoriums that foreign-language films generally play to Stateside. The solution? Add millions of dollars to the budget, replace the plain, 30-something female leads with sexy blonde babes and, for goodness' sake, have the time-traversing 12th-century French aristocrat and his boorish manservant speak fluent English. The depressing truths of commercialism aside, this Hollywood adaptation is for the most part consistently entertaining, thanks to the original's ingeniously fun premise that finds the heroic Count Thibault Malfete (Jean Reno) and his faithful if odiferous slave Andre (co-scripter Christian Clavier) transported hundreds of years into the future by the mixed-up spell of a befuddled wizard (Malcolm McDowell).

   Upon arriving in modern-day Chicago, Thibault encounters a doppleganger of his mediaeval beloved, whom he accidentally killed after drinking a hallucinatory potion given to him by a romantic rival. This modern-day incarnation, Julia (Christina Applegate), he learns, is his descendant, meaning that all is not lost and there is still hope of reversing the tragedy and preserving the strand of time in which the Malfete lineage has carried on.

   Julia takes Thibault for a long-lost cousin thought to have perished in a boating accident, and she chalks up his odd behavior to post-traumatic stress. Her oily, money-grubbing fiancé (played with the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash by Matt Ross) is not as understanding when she brings home what seem to him to be two anachronistically-garbed madmen, who promptly set about destroying everything with which they come in contact as they marvel at the odd trappings of neoteric society.

   As fish-out-of-water comedies go, it's a promising set-up that's exploited at every turn for easy laughs, but a greater depth and the heart of the film is found in Reno's performance, who is admittedly a willing participant in a good amount of the buffoonery but at times infuses Thibault with such nobility, wisdom and magnetism that he seems to belong in an epic period romantic drama rather than bathing out of a toilet and thwarting National Lampoon-caliber yuppie villains. Starring Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Christina Applegate, Tara Reid, Tara Reid and Malcolm McDowell. Directed by Jean-Marie Gaubert. Written by Christian Clavier & Jean-Marie Poire & John Hughes. Produced by Patrice Ledoux. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for violence and crude humor. Running time: 89 min

Tags: Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Christina Applegate, Tara Reid, Malcolm McDowell, Directed by Jean-Marie Gaubert, Written by Christian Clavier, Jean-Marie Poire, John Hughes, Produced by Patrice Ledoux, A Buena Vista release, Comedy, madmen, boating, accident, post-traumatic

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