“Just Visiting” continues Hollywood’s curious practice of remaking hit French comedies, and it likely will continue American audiences’ practice of wondering just why the hell Tinseltown even bothers. After all, France is notorious for its questionable taste in film, but what’s more, the broad slapstick that could remotely be considered mildly funny in their native context goes over like a lead balloon en anglais.
It certainly doesn’t help that “Just Visiting,” based on the 1993 French hit “Les Visiteurs,” milks the same basic outgrowth of a fish-out-of-water scenario not merely to death, but well into the afterlife. The visitors of that original title are French knight Thibault and his peasant servant André (respectively played by Jean Reno and Christian Clavier, both reprising their original roles, which, in the latter’s case, also includes co-scripting), who find themselves in modern-day Chicago. They, of course, are not at all familiar with now-commonplace technological innovations, so they approach them with an unwavering suspicion that inevitably manifests itself in physical action. In other words, they wreck everything. The two take a car as a dragon, so they try to “slay” it. They smash a television set in an attempt to free the people they see “imprisoned” on a vintage episode of “Family Feud.” Then there are the would-be cutesy misuses of appliances and other items, such as mistaking a toilet for a fountain and an expensive oversize bottle of Chanel for bath oil. But the proceedings wouldn’t be complete with a token gross-out gag, hence a scene where urinal cakes are mistaken for mints.
As if raping that dead horse weren’t troublesome enough, there’s a huge lapse in logic at the core of “Just Visiting.” Sure, a film about medieval Frenchmen stuck in the wrong time allows itself a certain suspension of disbelief, but there’s a crucial hole in its fundamental game plan. In Chicago, Thibault meets up with and is taken in by Julia Malfete (Christina Applegate), the distant descendant of him and his beloved Rosalind (also played by Applegate). The problem? The reason why Thibault wants to do any time traveling in the first place is that a rival cast a spell on him that caused him to kill Rosalind on the eve of their wedding; instead of sending Thibault back in time to prevent Rosalind’s untimely death, a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) sends him to the future. So if Thibault killed Rosalind, they would have never had the chance to start a lineage and hence Julia should not exist.
On the plus side, Julia’s non-existence would have meant being spared her boring subplot in which her slimy fiancé (Matthew Ross) schemes to swindle her out of the inherited Malfete estate. On the negative, that would have also made the film lose its only redeemable element, which is Applegate’s valiant effort to give an actual performance amid all the inanity of all the slapstick and the tedium of a forced romantic subplot between André and the gardener next door (Tara Reid). Ultimately, though, the only existence worth calling into question is that of the painfully unfunny “Just Visiting.”