'The Visitors: Bastille Day': Film Review

Courtesy of Gaumont
A woeful comic cash-grab.

Jean Reno and Christian Clavier are back as time-trippers from the Middle Ages.

Before Intouchables and Welcome to the Sticks became the two highest-grossing French films in history, one of the most successful local movies was the 1993 time-traveling comedy Les Visiteurs, which was shot on a budget of about $10 million and wound up pulling in close to 10 times that at the box office.

It was followed by a 1998 sequel that raked in an impressive 8 million admissions at home, then by a 2001 English-language remake entitled Just Visiting that was a total flop both critically and commercially — and surely something to leave off the resumes of Christina Applegate and the late, great John Hughes, who's credited as one of the screenwriters.

Over 20 years since the first movie — about a medieval knight, Godefroy de Montmirail (Jean Reno) and his loyal servant, Jacquouille (Christian Clavier), teleporting to present-day France and getting into all sorts of trouble — became the sort of 90’s classic that many Frenchies grew up with and still remember fondly, the filmmakers have decided to take another stab at the formula with part three of the trilogy, The Visitors: Bastille Day (Les Visiteurs: La Revolution), which brings back some of the original cast and crew while adding a few new comic talents of the moment.

The result, alas, may be one of the worst French comedies in recent memory — so poorly written and conceived that it makes the work of current Gallic screen idol Kev Adams (Serial Teachers) look like Ernst Lubitsch in comparison, or the ultra-popular, ultra-painful The Tuche franchise seem like a Billy Wilder production. There’s basically nothing to salvage here for producer-distributor Gaumont, who may have a hard time recouping its purported €25 million ($28 million) investment, making this one of the most expensive French-language productions, well, ever.

Beginning more or less where the second film ended, the script (by Clavier and returning director Jean-Marie Poire) finds Godefroy and Jacquouille whisked away from 1993 to the Reign of Terror of 1793, when thousands of aristocrats were guillotined at the hands of Maximilien Robespierre (Nicolas Vaude).

Still dressed in their Middle Age garb and stricken with Middle Age manners, the two knuckleheads — considerably older-looking now, though the screenplay lamely tries to deal with that issue — are soon caught between fleeing royalty (Karin Viard, Franck Dubosc) and Jacobin allies, including Robespierre’s sister (Sylvie Testud) and the journalist Marat (Christian Hecq), who was immortalized in Jacques-Louis David’s famous bathtub painting (and yes, there are several bath jokes here, including one where Jacquouille drops a piece of chocolate cake into Marat’s tub. Get it? What?).

While the original film dished out some clever gags about medieval men dealing with modern times, there’s nothing funny about watching Clavier cover his hair with face powder, or about hearing Reno’s character defend the king’s bowel movements by shouting: “It’s the royal shit!” In fact, most of the humor in this third installment involves body odor and/or feces, including a running gag about diarrhea and an early bit where Clavier and co-star Alex Lutz literally kick turds at one another, in a scene that sort of sums up the movie.

Clocking in at nearly two hours, The Visitors 3 is a chore from start to finish, and one wonders what a veritable talent like Viard (The Belier Family) is doing here other than giving herself a payday. Indeed, it’s hard to see where exactly the whopping (for France) €25 million budget went if not into the pockets of Clavier and his cohorts as they try one last time — or maybe not, as yet another sequel is set up at the end — to cash in on a concept that only really worked once.

Production values hardly reflect such a huge spend, and although the period is ripe for visual splendor — think Valmont or Dangerous Liaisons or, heck, Barry Lyndon – the final product looks more like a loud Bar Mitzvah video made with lots of costumes, wigs and merde.

Production companies: Gaumont, Ouille Productions, Nexus Factory, Okko Production, TF1 Films Production
Cast: Jean Reno, Christian Clavier, Karin Viard, Franck Dubosc, Alex Lutz
Director: Jean-Maire Poire
Screenwriters: Christian Clavier, Jean-Marie Poire
Producer: Sidonie Dumas
Director of photography: Stephanie Le Parc
Production designer: Philippe L’Eveque
Costume designer: Pierre-Jean Larroque Afcca
Editor: Philippe Bourgueil
Composer: Eric Levi
Casting director: Coralie Amedeo Arda
Sales: Gaumont

In French
110 minutes