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Just Visiting (2001) starstar

Reviewed 2002-09-06
: In a world where automobiles are dragons, toilets are fountains, tiny people are trapped within TV sets and refrigerators make fencing partners -- wait a minute! That sounds like modern life! Yet into that world drops a 12th-century knight, Count Thibault Malfete (Jean Reno) and his self-abasing valet, André (Christian Clavier) in yet another fish-out-of-water tale. This time it's written by the same team (Jean-Marie Poiré and Christian Clavier), and directed by the same director (Jean-Marie Poiré) who brought the world the 1993 film on which it is based: Les Visiteurs. Sadly, the US rejected the popularity of the French original, proving once again that perhaps the US is not of this world -- I mean, how can we not think the comedy of Jerry Lewis is pure genius?

The story begins strangely enough: Thibault wants to marry the Princess Rosalind (Christina Applegate), but a rival plots to prevent that, and though the plot fails, through malign mischance Thibault has to enlist a Wizard (Malcolm McDowell) to back up time a few frames to fix a dreadful mistake. But the Wizard himself is a few frames short of a full reel and his potion flings Thibault and André into the future, instead. There Thibault awakens inside a replica of his castle, in a museum where a distant descendant of his is an antiquities expert, Julia Malfete (Christina Applegate again). I have to admit I never tire of this premise, and I liked the subplot in which André finds his self-respect through his attraction to the attractive gardener next door (Tara Reid) -- but Just Visiting, aside from its weak title, is no more than diverting. The villain, Matt Ross as Hunter, is Julia's philandering, live-in boyfriend, intending to marry Julia and have her sell the Malfete estate so he can get his hands on its proceeds. Hunter could just as easily wear a handlebar moustache and tie the damsel to the railroad tracks, so one-dimensional is he. There aren't enough laughs to make this a great comedy -- "I want to stay here, where I can eat doughnuts and wear exciting men's fashions at rock-bottom prices," says André at one point -- but at least there is enough grounding in the performance of Jean Reno (who was in the original) to avoid becoming a dreadful comedy.

One point I want to make in closing. Although I like the comedic potential in the time-travel genre (see, for example, my review of Kate & Leopold), I do not at all subscribe to the "things were better then" school of thought. By any measure, scientifically applied -- life expectancy, individual rights and freedoms (especially rights of women), sanitation, health care, delivery of goods and services, even overall religious freedom -- modern civilization is superior to any past civilization you can name!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.