JUST VISITING

PG-13
Reviews

Apparently, the French, they do not take non for an answer. According to reports, Gaumont, defying logic (Cartesian or otherwise), spent upwards of $50 million (maybe as much as $100 million) on this Americanized version of Les Visiteurs.

Just Visiting kicks off in the late 12th century, as Thibault is about to be married to his love Rosalind (Christina Applegate). But the wicked Earl of Warwick, hot for Rosalind, attempts to sabotage the nuptials with a witch's potion. His ploy goes awry and the drink sends Thibault and valet Andre into 21st-century Chicago, where they awaken in a museum installation recreating their medieval habitat that has been curated by Julia (also Applegate), Thibault's only living descendant. George Plimpton makes another career detour with his brief role as the befuddled museum director.

What follows are Thibault and Andre's outrageous encounters with such modern accoutrements as cars, telephones, toilets, etc. as, in very broad strokes, the two visitors mistake, misuse and misinterpret them in slapstick abandon. Plotwise, Julia is being used and manipulated by her conniving fianc Hunter (Matthew Ross), who means to appropriate the estate that Julia has inherited from her late cousin, another Thibault descendant. As Thibault becomes acquainted with his new millennial surroundings, he becomes aware of Hunter's evil intentions and sets about doing what any noble knight would do. Meanwhile, the dopey Andre begins a courtship with Angelique (Tara Reid), the maid of Julia's neighbor, and a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) from the 12th century time-travels to Chicago to try to rescue the heroes.

Yes, Just Visiting looks great, including its Chicago locations--everything from neighborhood bars to fancy restaurants to well-appointed homes--and the brief medieval settings and French chateau finale. There are also some elaborate special effects that convey the powerful potions and their ability to violently propel the characters through centuries, but, in 2001, these effects are beginning to tire.

Some of the visual gags, largely involving the dopey Andre's encounters with modern life, will tickle audiences, but others will rankle. It's amusing, though predictable, when Thibault and Andre mistake their first car for a dragon or when Andre, scurrying about a kitchen floor, thinks a plate of dog food is a plate for him. But his mistaking a deodorant cube in a restaurant urinal for a block of peppermint that he later shares as an after-dinner mint with fellow diners is simply gross. Just Visiting is further hobbled by its two leads, whose French accents muddy their lines and make the film a lot less accessible to the younger audiences the film targets.

Beyond these shortcomings, bad luck has also been visited upon Just Visiting. The film has its own behind-the-scenes time-travel drama, having spent several years in a time corridor before finally reaching screens. (The French version of Just Visiting--completed in 1999--hit French screens in mid-April.) Director Jean-Marie Poire (Les Visiteurs), one of France's most successful comedy filmmakers, took his name off the film--the director is credited as Jean-Marie Gaubert. And, according to reports, John Hughes, still credited as a screenwriter, was to write and produce what was intended to be a Disney/Gaumont project, but he pulled out just before shooting. Hughes' retreat apparently led to Disney's exit, with the studio reportedly exposed only to a P&A commitment.

--Doris Toumarkine