Just Visiting

In 1993, there was a French movie called “Les Visiteurs” in which a 12th-century knight and his servant get transported to modern times. It did reasonably well, grossing $100 million world-wide.

Less than $1 million of that was in the United States, though, indicating to the filmmakers that Americans wouldn’t mind a remake of it. The result? “Just Visiting,” directed by the same man (Jean-Marie Poire), written by the same men (Poire and Christian Clavier), and starring the same men (Clavier and Jean Reno).

Why a movie that only made $600,000 in the United States warrants an English-language remake is beyond me, but here it is, trying not-too-hard to be funny and good-naturedly asking you to be entertained by it, if it’s not too much trouble. The word “innocuous” was created for movies like this, both in the sense of being harmless, and in the sense of being unlikely to inspire any strong feelings.

In the 1100s, French Count Thibault Malfete (Reno) is about to marry the fetching English lady Rosaline (Christina Applegate, looking quite Jennifer Anistonian). Another nobleman wants him dead, though, so he has a witch put a potion in Rosaline’s drink that will make her want to kill Thibault. Alas, Thibault and Rosaline switch goblets, and after he drinks, hallucinations make him run her through with a sword.

While awaiting his execution, Thibault sends his faithful peasant Andre (Clavier) to find him a wizard. This he does, and the wizard plans to send them both back in time to before the banquet, so he can avoid killing his fiancee this time. (How come the wizard can send people through time but he can’t simply raise the dead? Seems like that would be easier.) Wizard screws up; Thibault and Andre go forward instead of backward in time; hilarity ensues.

The wind up in a museum in Chicago. It just so happens that the curator is Julia Malfete — one of Thibault and Rosaline’s descendants. And it just so happens that she comes to believe Thibault’s story, because he has the family crest and knows the family motto and stuff.

Julia is married to Hunter (Matt Ross), who is after her family’s money. Since Julia is clearly supposed to wind up falling for Thibault instead, the movie finds it necessary to make Hunter an adulterer. It’s not enough he’s mean and greedy; he has to be cheating on Julia, too, just so there’s no gray area when she leaves him. The movie is in color, but it’s really in black-and-white, when you get right down to it.

And so there are all the usual jokes about people from the past being confused by cars, telephones and toilets. One potentially amusing joke has Thibault and Andre getting motion sickness because the car drives too fast, even when it’s only going 22 mph; that joke is ruined when, a few scenes later, both are shown to be perfectly used to it already.

It’s a rather sloppy film, shot two years ago (a movie marquee mentions “Go” and “The Out of Towners,” both from Summer 1999) and without much attention to detail. Some of the special effects are nifty, but the plot is neglected.

I laughed a few times. Never very hard, but good, honest laughs nonetheless. And despite its general lack of high hilarity, the film doesn’t drag, go off on unnecessary tangents, or annoy anybody. It’s a vanilla ice-cream movie, which might be what you’re in the mood for. Probably not, but maybe.

C- (; PG-13, a few profanities, some crude humor.)