“Les Visiteurs,” a crowd-pleasing time-travel comedy, is doing boffo biz at Gallic wickets. Snappily paced and resoundingly silly pic follows the goofy antics of an 12th-century knight and his faithful serf who are mistakenly zapped to present-day France. Wacky, nimble fare should have legs throughout Europe.
En route to his betrothed (Valerie Lemercier) in the year 1122, the brave knight Godefroy de Montmirail (a deadpan Jean Reno) captures a sorceress. The witch drugs Reno, causing him to kill his fiancee’s father, putting a damper on the marriage plans and jeopardizing the continuation of his line.
Desperate to make amends, Reno and loyal serf Jacquouille La Fripouille (Christian Clavier) drink a magic potion that is supposed to turn back the clock and undo the fatal deed. Instead it propels them 871 years into the future, where they encounter their modern-day descendants.
Plenty of fish-out-of-water gags ensue as the dynamic duo, mistaken for an amnesiac relative and his peculiar sidekick, are offered hospitality by the local countess (also played by Lemercier).
To Reno’s horror, the chateau of yore has been converted into an exclusive luxury hotel, run by a prim dandy, Jacquart (also played by Clavier). The unnerving resemblances seem to indicate that a few centuries can alter ancestral social status in either direction.
The visitors are klutzes in refined surroundings, with less-than-genteel notions about table etiquette and positively medieval concepts of subservience, hygiene (a running joke involves the time-travelers’ gamy smell; when they finally take a bath they blithely empty a lifetime supply of Chanel No. 5 into the tub), chivalry and honor. The dopey but inventive plot is kept aloft via frantic pacing and lots of extreme camera angles.
The visitors speak a newfangled Old French that’s sometimes uproarious by virtue of its incongruity. The serf’s name, repeated as often as possible, runs on the same adolescent wavelength as the Monty Pythoners discussing the Roman dignitary “Biggus Dickus.”
Thesps, most of whom have already worked together on stage and/or screen, seem to be having a ball. Lemercier’s physical humor and unique upper-class elocution are particularly funny. Script pokes fun at the “everything must be resolved before the stroke of midnight” tradition.
Straight dramatic score and fine production design lend classy counterpoint to the silly proceedings.