Three tenets often associated with high profile Hollywood films crash together in "Just Visiting," the fitfully amusing remake of the 1993 French comedy, "Les Visiteurs," that proves the old adage about it sometimes being best leaving well enough alone.
I've previously discussed the first such article - the high concept, "what if" scenario" - as something that quickly describes a film's basic story and can usually get studios to green-light a film, producers to finance it, and moviegoers to attend it. In this case, as in the original, that high concept proposal is, "What if two medieval men from the 12th century suddenly found themselves transported through time to the present day?"
It doesn't take a film historian or scholar to realize and imagine what sort of film that will be - which is a comedy, of course - or the inevitable complications that will arise from the stark contrast between them and their new surroundings.
That leads us to the second tenet, and that's the "fish out of water" scenario," another common film element where comedy and occasionally drama stem from characters suddenly finding themselves in a foreign land or time. The resultant comedy or drama then arises from the clash between cultures and lifestyles - as was the case in "Crocodile Dundee" - or time and generations such as in "Back to the Future" and "Peggy Sue Got Married."
As long as the writers can think up enough differences in either regard and regardless of whether the said characters go forward or backward in time or for American movies to have an American going elsewhere or a foreigner coming here, the potential is seemingly endless.
Of course, if the third tent - remaking an existing film - is present, then some of that work is going to be a bit easier since some of the original film's scenes - or at least the gist of them - will undoubtedly be lifted and dropped into the remake.
While a great deal of American films are actually remakes of French films - including "Sommersby," "Blame it On Rio" and "The Woman in Red," with "3 Men and a Baby" being the best known - and some even have the same director for both versions - such as was the case with "The Vanishing" and "Three Fugitives" - it's rare for one to have both the director and the two main stars returning to remake the same film. Yet, that's the case here, despite the fact that they already returned to the material in 1998 with "Les Couloirs du temps: Les visiteurs 2" (a.k.a. "The Corridors of Time: The Visitors II"), the sequel to the original film.
While I haven't seen that original work - which was a huge success in Europe - and notwithstanding the remake containing those three major tenets, I have to admit that I went into the screening thinking that it was a less than stellar, and actually rather lame sounding idea for a movie.
After all, the span of time between the two settings is too great to elicit as much material as one would like, and most contemporary viewers' only frame of reference for 12th century England is stereotypical portrayals and caricatures from other films. As a result, only the most obvious jokes and references are possible and they'd have to be pulled off with both originality and imagination to make them worthwhile.
Unfortunately, my initial gut reaction was correct, as what this film offers is often painful and torturously bad to behold, with only a few mediocre laughs to be had. Of course, those who've never seen a "fish out of water" film or who favor and/or enjoy lowest common denominator bathroom humor might find this picture entertaining and enjoyable.
While there's obviously some potential in having unrefined 12th century men discovering and experiencing the amenities and trappings of 21st century life - including that involving cars, bathrooms, electricity and dining in a fine restaurant - the filmmakers here, director and co-screenwriter Jean-Marie Gaubert (who helmed the original film and its sequel under the name Jean-Marie Poiré) and screenwriters Christian Clavier (one of the film's stars) & writer/director John Hughes (who's helped Americanize Poiré and Clavier's original screenplay), go for the easy scores and don't put enough creative thought into what transpires.
They also occasionally miss certain items (such as the men reacting to their view "magically" changing from the time an elevator's doors close and then open again on another floor) and what could have been fun running gags (the men suddenly and illogically accept automobiles after "slaying" the first truck they encounter, believing it to be a dragon of sorts).
Beyond the while time travel conundrum that I won't get into since the filmmakers obviously didn't even give it a try (unlike the terrific and thoroughly enjoyable "Time After Time" that starred one of this film's wasted co-stars, Malcolm McDowell of "Blue Thunder" and "A Clockwork Orange"), other details are overlooked or don't make any sense. That includes why the present day story is set in Chicago when L.A. - with all of its wacky characters - or New York - with its name connection to England - would have made more sense and offered more material with which the filmmakers could have worked.
Instead, they've focused their collective energies on an embarrassingly bad storyline that kicks in once the initial time travel setup concludes, a collection of idiotic characters and caricatures, and the obligatory "feel good" messages and symbolism that pop up at the end just as unwelcome as the 12th century visitors themselves. While one usually cuts comedies some slack in terms of characters and story, what's offered here is of the eye-rolling variety.
As far as the performances are concerned, they're not terribly inspired - especially when compared with what the old Monty Python troupe could have done with such material in their heyday - although Christian Clavier ("Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar," "Opération Corned-Beef") certainly gives it his all as far as delivering boatloads of hyperkinetic energy. He and Jean Reno ("Ronin," "Mission: Impossible") are generally okay reprising their original roles, but beyond providing a few laughs, they're instantly forgettable.
That also holds true for Christina Applegate ("Mafia!" "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead") and Matthew Ross ("Company Man," "Wonder Boys"), while Tara Reid ("Josie and the Pussycats," "Dr. T & The Women") and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras ("The Wedding Planner," "Love Stinks") seemingly come off as afterthoughts, especially the latter actress whose most memorable moment is seductively rolling around a table in front of her lover like a sex kitten in heat.
Granted, she eventually rolls off that table, but that "laugh" has been down been so many times before that it's lost most of its punch, as has much of the other humor and jokes the film has to offer, and I'm not just referring to that in terms of its status as a remake.
Occasionally amusing but otherwise ludicrous and often embarrassing to watch - especially when one tries to figure out when the "present day" footage is set since a calendar reads early 2000, the Macarena song plays in one scene, and a movie marquee shows the 1999 film, "The Out of Towners" playing - most of this film comes off like an unwelcome and boisterous houseguest who's so annoying that you simply want them to go away. "The Visitors" rates as just a 3 out of 10.