Published April 1, 2001
What, I wonder, is the point of remaking a film you’ve already made if you’re just going to make the same mistakes over again? In fact, in Just Visiting Jean-Marie Gaubert makes the same mistakes he made in Les Visiteurs (1993) only more so—perhaps because he took on John Hughes to help him tart the script up for its English-language version. Skilled as Mr. Hughes is in the very narrow area of his expertise (mainly writing Home Alone movies), he is not the man to see that what Les Visiteurs lacked was a serious sense of the difference between people in the 12th or 13th centuries and people today, let alone the man to supply it. In fact, he was just the man to focus like a laser on the unserious differences—what fun he has with the medieval visitors’ discovery of indoor plumbing!—while relegating the serious stuff to a bit of hastily made-up psychobabble.
However, readers in serious need of a bit of a laugh may well decide that their $8 or $9 has not been spent in vain. Jean Reno and Christian Clavier (who wrote the original screenplay with Jean-Marie Poire) reprise their original roles as Thibault, Comte de Malfete and his servant André, and if anything do an even better job of looking surprised by the technological innovations of the 20th (and, indeed, the 19th) century. Large sections of the audience will be tempted to cheer when the Count slays an automotive dragon and, in the process, puts a violent end to “The Macarena” on its sound system, or when he destroys a television set in an attempt to free from putative captivity therein the contestants on “Family Feud.” But these amusing episodes, together with the ones featuring toilets and urinals and a flaming chicken spitted on an umbrella, run out about half-way through.
Thereafter, we are left with a lot of cheesy special effects, supposedly a product of the potions of an English wizard played by Malcolm McDowell, to account for the time travel and the aforementioned psychobabble derived from the feminist self-esteem movement. The Count, on being translated to the year 2000, finds himself under the protection of his descendant, Julia Malfete (Christina Applegate) and her scheming boyfriend, Hunter (Matthew Ross) who calls her “Bunny” and makes her believe that she needs him to run her life for her. Of course, he is scheming with another girlfriend, Amber (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) to rob her and then leave her. Her many times great grandfather arrives and, in the intervals of playing the buffoon with unfamiliar objects, teaches her not to be a bunny anymore, but to be a strong and independent woman. The family motto is “Courage is my creed” and “all the woman of our lineage are lionhearted” he tells her—not bunny-hearted.
Well, this is very nice for her, especially as it gets the loathsome Hunter out of her life, but it has the most unwelcome effect of making the Count altogether too much a modern man. Of course, one can scarcely imagine a movie on this theme which would present such a hero with the attitude to women that someone like him in real life would presumably have had. There are limits to Hollywood’s appreciation of knights in shining armor. The script makes a few gestures in the direction of moral and psychological authenticity by showing how the Count is disposed to treat his servant, André, as property. But then he manumits him at Julia’s instance to become “a free man” in the present day, roaring off to Vegas with his new gardener girlfriend (Tara Reid) while Count Thibault returns with the Wizard to his own time to marry Julia’s lookalike, also played by Miss Applegate. So that’s all right then!