Directed by Jean-Marie Gaubert (really Jean-Marie Poiré)
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
OK, folks. Prepare yourselves for another belated review of an unsuccessful film. Actually, Just Visiting is more than just unsuccessful; it's an unqualified bomb. After two weeks in wide release (don't ask me how it got there), and about $4 million in box office receipts, this Franco-American movie has dropped out. Now, it's only playing in cheapo second-run houses, or megaplexes that need all the films they can get just to keep running. If anything, this film has proved one thing: Jean Reno, despite being the biggest action star in France, will do anything for money without regard to how it will impact his international reputation. In fact, he'll do it three times.
As some readers may not know, Just Visiting is the third film in a series. Or, more technically, it's an American remake of the hit 1993 French comedy Les Visiteurs, which had a sequel in 1998. Both starred Reno as a medieval Gallic knight and Christian Clavier (who also co-wrote the films) as his idiot servant. Through some magic spell, they find themselves in modern times. In this runaround, they forget the events of the first two films (which never played in America -- more on that later) and find themselves in modern Chicago, the home of Reno's only living descendent (Christina Applegate).
I don't really need to go into the film itself anymore. As you can see, the premise of this comedy is that medieval people, regardless of their stature, are maladjusted for modern life. Things like toilets and electric lights mystify them, and so on. The potential for laughs is limited, but the French -- God bless 'em -- never stop trying.
Which leads me back to the subject of commercial French comedies. Very few of them make it stateside, unlike the more sophisticated French dramas that star Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, et al. Therefore, few people realize that Clavier is a huge international star, even outside the French-speaking world. He specializes in the sort of comedies that play huge all over the world, except in America, where dubbed comedies are nonexistent. Les Visiteurs is not the kind of film that plays well with subtitles, so we don't see it.
An even more significant example is Astérix & Obélix contre César, which also stars Clavier along with Gérard Depardieu (who has been long known for doing anything for money despite his stardom or talent) and Roberto Benigni (again showing how much he was overrated after Life Is Beautiful). It is the highest-grossing comedy of all time that wasn't originally in English. This is, of course, based on global sales since it has only played in very limited release in America, and never even came to video. There is a sequel coming out next year, and that will also never get any significant distribution stateside.
So how did Just Visiting make it into theatres across North America? Reno has been fairly well known in the American mainstream since Léon (which played here under the title The Professional), but he can't open a film wide. Disney acquired the U.S. rights from Gaumont, and has distributed it under their Hollywood Pictures division (which I thought was defunct long ago, and is probably just used as a logo to keep the Touchstone brand clean). Some executive over there (who has probably been fired by now) must have gotten his hands on some bad drugs and thought that this film could make money. Even the director, Jean-Marie Poiré, was so ashamed that he removed his name from the credits, using a lame nom de plume.
If you wish to be tortured by the Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler of France, then by all means see this film. I know that I skimped on the direct criticism of its content, but frankly the discussion of the state of French film comedy was more interesting. At least to me. Perhaps there are some people out there who would love to see a substandard fish-out-of-water comedy with pathetic special effects. Of course, those people have spent the last ten years in a sense-deprivation chamber. I suppose it is more entertaining than total darkness and silence -- but just barely.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Just Visiting (2001)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan