You know you're in trouble when a slapstick comedy opens with the lead character plunging a sword into his beloved.
"Just Visiting" (IMDb listing) is an English language remake of the 1993 French comedy blockbuster "The Visitors," which lent itself to a 1998 sequel, "Corridors of Time: The Visitors 2." It's all very French and very silly, yet in trying to prostitute this material for American consumption, the filmmakers have decided to tone down the energy and up the emotional content. For any comedy, once you start to second guess yourself, all is lost.
Directed by returning helmer Jean Marie Poire, "Just Visiting" stars Jean Reno ("Leon: The Professional") as nobleman Count Thibault. Accidentally murdering his wife on the day of their wedding, Thibault requests the help of a wizard (a slumming Malcolm McDowell) to send him into the past so he can avoid making this ghastly mistake twice. An error is made, with Thibault and his servant Andre (Christian Clavier) being sent to modern day Chicago. It is there that these visitors meet an art curator (Christina Applegate) who is actually the great, great, great, great, great, great, granddaughter of Thibault. Trying to maneuver around the big city, yet looking for a way back home, Thibault and Andre find love ("Josie and the Pussycats'" Tara Reid) and enemies (Matt Ross and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) in their journey to the correct time period.
For a slapstick comedy to be successful, the film really needs to have complete confidence in itself. The picture has to go above and beyond to get that extra laugh. "Just Visiting" doesn't. It starts off strong enough with amusing scenes of disorder and confusion as the two time travelers discover all the latest inventions of Chicago. The laughs are there, as is a very bizarre corral of expensive looking special effects. Authored by the original writers of "The Visitors," director Poire and co-star Clavier, the team or maybe the producers have decided to bring in the once legendary John Hughes for that mandatory American co-writing credit. What I can only imagine Hughes bringing to the table are "Just Visiting's" less congratulatory elements (crotch jokes and slap fights).
Ditching the comedy after about 30 minutes, "Just Visiting" then becomes this maudlin paste of romantic and emotional situations tossed in rather crudely to siphon any audience empathy out there. It kills the comic momentum and extinguishes the audience's interest in the piece. I hope people can recognize condescending material when they see it, because in the end, "Just Visiting" becomes the robotic manipulative junk that the studios throw out every weekend hoping one will stick and rake in cash.
Since stars Jean Reno and Christian Clavier have already had the opportunity to perform as these characters, it's really no surprise that they have a remarkably fluid chemistry in "Just Visiting." Working very broadly, the duo milks most of the laughs with just reactions to modern day devices like the light-switch or an elevator. They're two very funny performances that get sucked away when the film's sense of humor dries up in the second half. Trying to keep up, Christina Applegate attaches herself nicely to the madness. She gives a gentle touch to a film trying hard to be manic.
The editing of the picture is also a point of contention. As lunatic as the story is, "Just Visiting" is not helped by the possible use of a dull spoon to cut the picture. Director Poire uses a multitude of coverage on the film, with every possible angle covered. Since "Just Visiting" is an older production (shot in early 1999), the film has been through many hands. The editors have the inevitable task of making sure most of the coverage is used, and they have to keep the story moving ahead at all costs. Regardless if the coverage is needed, every scene is a mishmash of grandiose crane movements and closeups. The result is disorienting and messy.
"Just Visiting" also makes little sense. The film starts off so intricate and slowly, only to burst ahead trying to get in and out of scenes without any care if the audience had the needed information to continue. Suggesting heavy involvement from the studio, "Just Visiting" has a tampered feeling all over it.
Filmfodder Grade: D+