Expired Ham


Hardly remembered, Jean-Marie Gaubert’s Les Visiteurs sucked up $100 million of European and Asian tickets in 1993 but earned about 14 bucks when it was released here by Miramax three years later. But it seems that we’ll be haunted by it until the Disney corporation gets a nice slice of that moldering quiche. Despite our native capacity to ignore what rocks the rest of the world, a movie that put that many non-American asses in theater seats inevitably gets Fun Factoried into a Yankee remake. The remake, Just Visiting, not only microwaves what is already four-day-old fish in Paris, but lets the original director, screenwriters, and stars do the reheating.

Of course the difference is “99 Luftballons”-versus-“99 Red Balloons” minimal. The script receives a pine-scented John Hughes-ing, and Christina Applegate plays the hapless modern girl (a museum curator) stuck with knight Thibault (Jean Reno) and bestial peasant Andre (Terry Jones-ish cowriter Christian Clavier) after they magically bop in from the 12th century after some wedding-day sorcery. After battling and killing a Lexus, the duo wander about Chicago pulling variations on the Splash/Crocodile Dundee/Encino Man shtick, thoroughly scandalizing black-tie diners, triumphing over muggers and unchivalrous louts, and eating urinal disks (“Hmm, it smells of the forest!”).

What didn’t feel contemporary and sharp (to us) in the original doesn’t again. It may be a matter of whose pop-history topos is being joshed; I imagine that, say, Greg Kinnear as a Jamestown Pilgrim pratfalling around the Louvre would have some difficulty connecting with audiences in Antwerp. But it’s all hay to the dogged Disney suits, who might perversely turn Gaubert’s harmless tosh into a sitcom and Saturday-morning cartoon series if this version sinks. Perhaps we should take one for the team and make Just Visiting an earner, just to be rid of it.

In a similar fashion, Jonas McCord’s The Body feels 20-odd years old—a tepid, clumsily executed Golan-Globus-style “international production” set in Jerusalem and concerning the fate of Christianity amid the Israeli-Palestinian sniper fire. Antonio Banderas is the unwitting agent of a Vatican plot to discredit a snarky archaeologist (Olivia Williams) who has found a skeleton that may have belonged to an unresurrected Jesus; the Israeli police and “ex-intifada” splinter psychos attempt to use it to their advantage. Indiana Jones has never been so missed, but instead this shaggy God story hones in on the faith dilemmas of Banderas and a sputtering Derek Jacobi, so Sunday-hammy you want to rivet him with cloves.