Just Visiting Jean-Marie Gaubert

Just Visiting Jean-Marie Gaubert
As madcap time-travel goofball comedies go, "Just Visiting" isn't really worse than any of the others. The plot is formulaic, the script fairly lame, the characters paper-thin and the conclusion predictable. As an American remake of a superior European film (1993's "Les Visiteurs") it does little to edify Hollywood's original-thinking department.

But why let a little thing like poor judgement get in the way of making a vacuous movie? Reprising the original's lead actors (the incomparable Jean Reno as Thibault, Comte de Malfete and Christian Clavier as his much-abused servant wretch Andre) as well as its director, Jean-Marie Gaubert, "Just Visiting" takes Thibault and Andre from the 12th to the 21st century, hoping to avert a disastrous accident with a little fancy time-travelling footwork. Thanks to a mistake by the eccentric wizard (Malcolm McDowell), they wind up in modern Chicago. Hijinks ensue.

The "plot" involves the two time travellers meeting Thibault's modern descendant Julia (Christina Applegate) and her villainous fiancée Hunter (Matthew Ross), and his plans to crush Julia's self-esteem while divesting her of the family fortune before he runs off with his vampish secretary. Needless to say, Thibault teaches his great-great-great-great-great (etc) granddaughter the lore of their stock's strength and nobility, Andre is emancipated, the fortune is saved and Hunter becomes the 12th century version of a prison-house bitch. Fart gags and French jokes pepper the otherwise hokey script.

Despite the utterly predictable development and conclusion, there are a few choice scenes where centuries clash. One involves the travellers bathing delicately out of a toilet bowl. Another involves Andre eating off the floor of a posh restaurant while Thibault magnanimously tosses him scraps of T-bone eaten with his hands while their hosts look on aghast. The scene ends with Andre innocently offering his social betters bits of urinal cake as after-dinner mints.

But the one scene that left me laughing afterwards has Andre explaining to his master his reluctance at returning to their proper time following a great 21st century date. He tells his master, "My father is a drunk, my mother is a hunchback, my brother is a dwarf and my sister is a whore. For me, there is no beloved home." Let's hear it for not being born in the 12th century.

While Gaubert does pull off some funky directional stunts, and Reno and Clavier are excellent as the bewildered nobleman and servant, the movie is after all a screwball comedy that inevitably steers towards an irritating feel-good last third. Aim the blame at screenwriter John Hughes (who, with Clavier and Jean-Marc Poir, wrote the English-language adaptation), who can't leave funny enough alone without throwing hankie-grabbers in for good measure.