Though American films play to huge returns in other parts of the world, Americans don’t exactly flock to see foreign films when they play here in the US. A film that becomes number one at the box office in…let’s say, France, is not all that likely to repeat that success stateside. However, Hollywood has often looked to international hits for remake material. Such was the case with the 1993 French hit Les Visiteurs, which was remade, with two of its original stars reprising their roles, as 2001’s Just Visiting.
Our story opens in 12th century England where Lord Thibault Mafete (Jean Reno) is about to marry his love, the Princess Rosalind (Christina Applegate). Unfortunately, Thibault has enemies who get a witch to concoct a potion which causes him to hallucinate that everyone around him are demons, including Rosalind who he mistakenly kills. Now scheduled to be executed, Thibault is visited by his servant Andre (Christian Clavier) and a wizard (Malcolm McDowell). The wizard has a potion of his own to send Thibault back in time, to just before Rosalind’s death, so he can stop the event. The dutiful Andre samples the potion first to be sure it won’t harm his master, then Thibault drinks it as well. The two are sucked into a time warp, but instead of going back in time they wake up in the year 2000 in a museum exhibit in Chicago.
It turns out that one of the employees of the museum is Julia (also Applegate), a descendant of Thibault’s. She assumes that he is actually a distant cousin of hers who was lost at sea a few years earlier. This distresses her husband Hunter (Matt Ross) who has been busily making plans to sell the lost relative’s estate (the castle we saw previously).
Of course, Thibault and Andre have a hard time adjusting to the 21st century. Andre is used to eating the table scraps his master tosses to him and that just doesn’t go over well when dining and one of Chicago’s fanciest restaurants. The duo also struggles with items like light switches, television (they think they must free the people trapped inside), and, of course, the toilet. Soon, Thibault enlists Julia’s help to locate a wizard, eventually finding that McDowell’s character has followed them in time. Meanwhile, Andre begins to become romantic with a young gardener named Angelique (Tara Reid), who works at the home next door to Julia.
Like Les Visiteurs, this film is written by Jean-Mair Poire and, the film’s co-star, Christian Clavier. Though for this American version there is an assist by John Hughes. Yes that John Hughes. You’d never know it, though. There’s nothing here that just scream Hughes, with the exception being that the modern-day portion of the film is set in Chicago. Still, as big a Hughes fan as I am, this didn’t exactly come at the height of his career. I did not have high hopes. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by much of Just Visiting.
Though this follows the standard fish-out-of-water playbook pretty closely, the film does manage a decent number of genuinely funny moments. None of it is highbrow by any stretch of the imagination, but I admit I did laugh. A moment where Andre is searching for a torch in a fancy restaurant and starts yanking light fixtures off the walls especially struck me as funny. At the same time, however, jokes involving eating urinal cakes just don’t register as funny for me. Suffice it to say, for every solidly funny moment there is another gag that fizzles.
The film does end up being reasonably enjoyable, though, helped a great deal by the spirited performances of both Jean Reno and Christian Clavier. Christina Applegate also does quite well in a nice girl role, quite a departure from her Married With Children character, which was only a few years in the rear view mirror at this point.
While I can’t say that Just Visiting is a laugh riot, or even that original, it does have some degree of entertainment value. If nothing else, it’s made me curious to check out the original film that inspired it and see what made it such a massive hit in France.