Director – Jean-Marie Gaubert [Poire], Screenplay – Christian Clavier, John Hughes & Jean-Marie Poire, Based on the Film Les Visiteurs Written by Christian Clavier & Jean-Marie Poire, Producers – Patrice LeDoux & Ricardo Mestres, Photography – Ueli Steigler, Music – John Powell, Visual Effects Supervisor – Igor Sekulic, Visual Effects – Visual Factory, Special Effects Supervisors – Nick Allder & Ron Bolanowski, Prosthetic Effects/Makeup – Jean-Marie Gaubert & Igor Sekluic, Production Design – Doug Kraner. Production Company – Gaumont/Hollywood Pictures
Jean Reno (Count Thibault VI), Christina Applegate (Julia Malfete/Lady Rosalind), Christian Clavier (Andre), Matthew Ross (Hunter Cassidy), Malcolm McDowell (The Wizard), Bridgette Wilson-Sampas (Amber), Tara Reid (Angelique), Robert Glenister (Earl of Warwick), John Aylward (Byron), Valerie Griffiths (Hag)
French nobleman Count Thibault VI is about to marry the Lady Rosalind, a cousin of the King of England. However, a rival for Rosalind’s affections has a witch poison Thibault’s wine, causing him to see fearsome apparitions and stab Rosalind. Thibault is sentenced to be beheaded but his bumbling servant Andre brings a wizard to his cell who gives them a potion that will send them back in time to just before Thibault stabbed Rosalind and prevent it from happening. However, the wizard accidentally leaves out one ingredient and they are instead transported through time to present-day Chicago. They wake up in a museum where Thibault’s modern-day descendant Julia Malfete works as an historian. They are bewildered by modern technology, although not as much as the 21st Century has difficulty adjusting to their less sophisticated ways.
Just Visiting is one of a series of American films that are (invariably inferior) remakes of French hits. This list includes the likes of The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), Three Men and a Baby (1987), Point of No Return (1993), True Lies (1994), The Birdcage (1996) and Diabolique (1996). In this case, the original was Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) (1993), a time-travel comedy that was one of the biggest box-office hits in the history of French cinema. The remake did not look promising – it was written by John Hughes, who had previously been responsible for the disastrous remakes of Miracle on 34th Street (1994), 101 Dalmatians (1996) and Flubber (1997). It does bring back original stars Jean Reno and Christian Clavier, as well as director Jean-Marie Poire. Unfortunately, when the film opens you see that Poire has hidden behind the pseudonym of Jean-Marie Gaubert, even though the lobby posters list Poire as director, something that almost certainly spells disaster.
Just Visiting follows Les Visiteurs in most basic respects. The events leading up to the time-travel journey have been changed somewhat, the wizard gets to come along on the journey this time and the location has been moved from France to Chicago (which makes the subplot about losing the ancestral family lands vague). However, the remake follows the overall shape of the original in all the basic areas – with Jean Reno encountering his present-day descendant, Christian Clavier finding a modern-day girlfriend and so on. It repeats many of the gags from the original – the mediaevals attacking a car thinking it is a dragon, Clavier eating scraps food thrown to him in a restaurant, gags with electric lamps and the mediaevals drinking out of a toilet. Some of the comedy is engaging enough. Christian Clavier gets the most laughs, although Jean Reno seems detached from the production and fails to project the comic certainty he did in the original. Surprisingly not too bad is Christina Applegate who shakes typecasting as the blonde airhead and cult sex symbol in tv’s Married … With Children (1987-97) and gives a 180 degree removed performance as a demure modern girl.
In every other respect however, Just Visiting is a disaster. This is a good example of Hollywood mindlessness having battered a good idea to death. The film is filled with gratuitous CGI effects – pop-up dragons, rooms full of flying people, people’s faces transforming into vegetables and trees. When it comes to the time-travel sequences, people do not do anything as ordinary as merely vanish but do so in showy effects-heavy scenes where they turn to stone and crumble, metamorphose into liquid metal or squish up into a human bouncing ball before they vanish. In comparison to the effects-lean and infinitely superior original, the remake seems absurdly overproduced. Indeed, it is one of the most ridiculous examples of the use of CGI effects solely for the sake of it in any film in recent memory.
The story has also been Americanised (clearly the influence of John Hughes who seemed to be becoming an increasing propagandist for Family Values in the 1990s). There is the addition of a greedy and unfaithful boyfriend character for the purpose of allowing Christina Applegate a trite character arc that culminates in her self-assertion. Moreover, the comic riff on feudalism gets democratised with Christian Clavier being given several lectures on the Land of the Free and finally shaking the yolk of servitude and going off to live the American Dream, being seen at the fadeout having made an instant fortune and driving off to Vegas with the girl and a set of designer clothes.
Twenty-three years later, Jean Reno, Christian Clavier and Jean-Marie Poire reteamed for a further French-language sequel The Visitors: Bastille Day (2016).