cast: Jean Reno, Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Malcolm McDowell
director: Jean-Marie Galbert
88 minutes (PG) 2000
Momentum DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video
[released 5 August]
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Hollywood loves a remake; and a remake of a foreign language movie is even better. It’s already a proven success – but none of their subtitle-averse audience will have seen it yet!
Les Visiteurs (1993) is one of those great rarities, a French comedy that’s actually funny. A medieval knight is about to marry his true love, but his rival casts a spell that causes him to kill her father. As he languishes in prison, a bumbling wizard tries to send him back in time to undo his mistake. Unfortunately, the magic malfunctions, and the knight and his flea-ridden servant are hurled forward in time to meet their own descendants and wreak havoc in the terrifying, alien 20th century.
Just Visiting reproduces the essential situation, with added poignancy; the initial spell too is faulty, and Count Thibault kills his true love, not her father. In the intervening years, the castle’s furnishings have migrated to a Chicago museum, causing the luckless visitors to arrive in the US of A. Here, Thibault meets his descendant Julia, the image of his beloved. (Who surely can’t exist if his princess, her ancestor, died, but anyway…)
Julia decides he must be her long-lost uncle, true owner of the French estate she’s about to sell. Her husband – who’s planning to run off with the proceeds, and his secretary – thinks Thibault is a con artist. Thibault just wants to return home and save his beloved – but browbeaten servant Andre takes a liking to a world where he’s not property…
Indeed, it’s in Andre that the cultural differences of the two versions are most apparent. In the original, the Count’s estates have been sold to his servant’s descendants, who operate the castle as a hotel – vive la revolution. In the remake, Andre must make do with freedom American style: stolen riches, an endearing but faintly trashy girlfriend, and driving into the sunset in a rhinestone Elvis costume, headed for Vegas.
The jokes play equally well in either language – wall switches that create day or night, iron chariots without horses, blenders, bathroom fittings, and a thousand other confusions. The remake, unsurprisingly, is heavier on the slapstick. Unusually, both versions have the same lead cast: Jean Reno as the imperious but warm-hearted Count, and co-writer Christian Clavier as his kleptomaniac servant.
The original is undoubtedly more subtle and satirical, but this is a perfectly agreeable entertainment. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for the sight of a knight in armour – on horseback – riding the subway, and barely drawing a glance from world-weary commuters…