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Just Visiting  

Cast: Jean Reno...............Count Thibault
Christian Clavier.......Andre
Christina Applegate.....Julia Malfete
Tara Reid...............Angelique

Directed by: Jean-Marie Poire Written by: Christian Clavier, Jean-Marie Poire, and John Hughes Based on the 1993 screenplay for "Les Visiteurs" by Jean-Marie Poire and Christian Clavier

Rated PG-13 for violence and crude humor

Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Just Visiting
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"Just Visiting" is a movie that is funny part of the time, charming part of the time, but sloppy and rushed most of the time. The film appears so desperate to reach its conclusion that it plays more like a Cliffs Notes version of a better comedy.

I have not seen the original 1993 version upon which this movie is based, so my remarks are in no way intended as a comparison. The story utilizes your basic fish-out-of-water concept. In this case, a French nobleman named Count Thibault of Malfete (Jean Reno) and his loyal servant Andre (Christian Clavier) are magically transported from the 12th century to modern-day Chicago, the result of a wizard's not-yet-perfected time travel potion. Baffled and lost, they soon meet Thibault's descendant, a museum curator named Julia Malfete (Christina Applegate). Thibault convinces Julia to help them locate the wizard and return to their own time.

Meanwhile, Andre is captivated by the cute, plucky Angelique (Tara Reid). She introduces him to the various pleasures of modern day life, and soon Andre is questioning his loyalty to Thibault, wanting instead to remain in this fascinating new world.

The original "Les Visiteurs" became a box office phenomenon in Europe and Asia, and I must confess that the American remake possesses a great deal of potential. The stranger-in-a-strange-world premise has always been reliable, and writers Christian Clavier, Jean-Marie Poire, and John Hughes add an extra comic dimension by placing the protagonists not in modern-day France, but modern-day America. French and American culture clashes have always been spicy fodder for humor, everything from the apparent French phobia of bath water to comedian Dennis Miller's shock at their generosity in giving us the Statue of Liberty despite hating our guts. ("They must have been throwing it out anyway.") The film ventures into similar territory in scenes where Thibault and Andre bathe using every container of soap and perfume they can find, or when Andre falls in love with a fragrance that can only be found in the most upscale restaurant urinals. Touches like that are indeed clever, but not hilarious.

The movie's potential isn't aided by horrendous editing. Consider the moment where Julia first brings the men into her home. The scene takes place in her kitchen; Thibault tries explaining their situation as Andre gleefully ransacks the place, getting a hold of anything he can find. His clumsy curiosity causes everything around him to either break, short circuit, or even explode. Fine, except we never really see exactly what he's getting into. Dishes break, food flies across the room, the blender detonates, dog food trickles from Andre's gaping mouth, yet it's pieced together so haphazardly that it ellicits no more than a mild feeling of amusement. Gallagher's Sledge-O-Matic is more refined.

While my overall reaction is negative, the movie isn't comically inept like the recent disaster "Saving Silverman." I did like the performances; Christina Applegate and Tara Reid are both very charming, Christian Clavier raises idiocy to an art form (yes, that's a compliment), and Jean Reno has an engaging off-hand kind of line delivery that fits nicely with some of the dialogue. (When he catches a purse snatcher in the act, he immediately unsheathes his sword. "His hand must be cut off. He's a thief," he explains. "No, really. It's okay," Julia pleads, to which he replies: "You're right. Very well. Hang him instead.")

The movie's eager, I'll give it that. Unfortunately, it would rather beat its jokes over the viewer's head instead of savoring its own clever comic touches. Just because I have a healthy appetite for outrageous comedy, that doesn't mean I want to be force-fed.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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