Retro Film Review: Les Visiteurs (1993)

in film •  last year 

In 1993 the biggest grossing film of the years was Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Although it made a lot of money outside US markets, the audience in many countries seemed to feel guilty about enjoying just another product of American cultural imperialism. So, in the mid 1990s many non-US film industries presented their own products, proudly noting that they had beaten Jurassic Park at their own box-offices. In case of France, that product was Les Visiteurs, 1993 comedic fantasy directed by Jean-Marie Poire and written by Christian Clavier.

The plot begins in 12th Century France where Count Godefroy de Montmirail (played by Jean Reno) saves the life of King. For that, he is awarded by permission to marry his beloved Frenegonde (played by Valerie Lemercier). Unfortunately, the witch poisons his wine with hallucinogens, so Godefroy kills Frenegonde's father. With Frenegonde deciding to go to the convent, desperate Godefroy and his trusted servant Jacquasse (played by Christian Clavier) seek the help of wizard who would bring them back in time and prevent the tragedy. The senile wizard botches the spell and sends them to 20th Century instead. There they must confront not only the strange world, full of wonders and dangers - they are faced with their own descendants, that look exactly like them. One of them is Jacquasse's descendant Jacquart (also played by Christian Clavier), who managed to switch his social class position and now owns ancient Godefroy's castle.

Les Visiteurs happened to be rude awakening for all of those who had grown up on Anglo-American pop culture only, and expected any French movie to be noble artistic endeavour compared with Hollywood products. That shouldn't surprise anyone, since it was hard to expect that non-commercial oriented product could beat Spielberg. Poire and Clavier, of course, knew better and decided to make their film just like any average Hollywood hack - "high concept" comedy, few computer-generated special effects, and lots of gags with the most hilarious ones, as usual, wasted in trailers. The humour, that should rely on the conflict between medieval and modern world often sinks to toilet levels. The plot is too complicated, considering that screenwriters don't pay much attention to it. Christian Clavier also doesn't help much with his own obnoxious Jim Carey-style over-acting. On the other hand, Jean Reno, until that role associated strictly with Besson, proves that he is capable comedian. This film is still funny, and those viewers who are somewhat more familiar with French and European history would appreciate it even more. But, the end result is still one big disappointment – excellent idea wasted in third-rate effort.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on May 9th 1999)

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