“The Visitors” — a noble time traveling knight and his scruffy vassal — are back in “The Corridors of Time The Visitors II,” the sequel, after a five year hiatus, to the second-most-successful French film (13.6 million tickets sold) of the postwar era. (First-place honoree, 1966’s “La Grande Vadrouille,” was also a wacky homegrown comedy.) Part II picks up where the open ended original left off, and sustains non stop silliness and mayhem for nearly two frenetic hours. Insofar as opening day (Feb. 11) ranked as the strongest national kick off in Gallic B.O. annals (420,OOO tix sold, 60,000 of which were in Paris) and shows are still selling out at a healthy clip, boffo local returns seem a foregone conclusion.
But whether this second adventure in time travel will journey much beyond French lingo territories is another story. Original generated an OK $10 million or so outside its native country but barely surfaced in the U.S., where Gaumont paid a small fortune to Mel Brooks to prep a dubbed version, which was subsequently tested and dropped in favor of a traditional subtitled edition from Miramax. The characters here are central to an undeniable pop culture phenomenon, but the culture in question is French to the bone. Based on local reaction alone, beloved and funny Jean Reno and Christian Clavier as intrepid travelers could well be back for another widescreen visit, since the corridor is wide open for a third installment.
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The only main performer absent from the sequel is Valerie Lemercier, whose clipped and delectably snooty pronunciation of “OK!” became a national catchword. Her replacement, in exactly the same role, is Muriel Robin, who, despite an utterly dissimilar physique, pretty much achieves the next to impossible task of making one forget Lemercier’s quirky turn in “The Visitors.”
As “The Corridors of Time” gets underway, its predecessor is quickly and cleverly recapped via the turning pages of an illuminated book with accompanying voice-over. In the initial pic, a magic potion sent an 11th-century knight, Godefroy de Montmirail (Reno) and his loyal serf Jacquouille la Fripouille (Clavier) hurtling into the contempo French countryside only to discover his direct descendant, Beatrice (Robin, inserted for Lemercier in the recap) and her dentist hubby Jean Pierre (Christian Bujeau) behaving like perfect bourgeois twits and the Montmirail chateau serving as a snazzy resort in the town now named for Godefroy.
Beatrice — the only contempo character to grasp that the two fragrant gents in earth toned garb are fish nearly 10 centuries out of water — is a dead ringer for Godefroy’s fiancee back in 1023, Frenegonde (also played by Robin), whom he was about to marry when the chemically assisted glitch in the time space continuum interceded. Also on the loose in the present is the insufferable Jacquart (also Clavier), who runs the now posh Montmirail estate. Both pics’ humor is grounded in the visitors running up against modernity (indoor plumbing, sandwiches wrapped in plastic) and speaking their hilarious brand of Old French.
Having taken up with a colorful and resourceful homeless woman, Ginette (Marie Anne Chazel), who assumes the duo are stunt men because of their odd attire, Jacquouille has a blast in the 1990s, particularly after he figures out that the master slave arrangement went out with a little event called the French Revolution. Through a series of closely timed machinations, a la “Back to the Future,” “The Visitors” ended with Godefroy success-fully returning whence he came and, via a last-minute switch, uppity innkeeper Jacquart being transported to the Middle Ages, leaving boorish, spontaneous Jacquouille willingly stranded in the present.
In Part II, Godefroy must reluctantly again trade the familiarity of chainmail for a world more attuned to e-mail when the Duke announces that his jewels — including a sacred relic — have been stolen. If the purloined gems are not restored to the past, Godefroy’s marriage will be cursed and sterile. The prologue shows us that Jacquouille — reintroduced creating havoc with Ginette in a modern supermarket — spirited the valuables away to the 20th century.
Meanwhile, prissy, radically displaced Jacquart is facing wolves, irate peasants, torture and burning at the stake at the behest of the local inquisitor. The gags are a kilometer a minute and the shenanigans don’t let up for a second, as magic potions are brewed and imbibed in both eras, and Godefroy, Jacquart, Jacquouille and even Jean Pierre the dentist bounce back and forth trying to put the pieces back together.
In the contempo story, a certain Hubert de Montmirail, who looks just like Reno, has been missing for 15 years. His lovely 20 year old daughter is about to be wed, and his wife Cora (Claire Nadeau) — an upper-class shrew — comes into possession of the sought after relic. Godefroy is, of course, mistaken for the wayward playboy bon vivant. His peculiarly formal speech and dress are taken for affectations. Jacquouille initiates comic havoc wherever he goes and consistently demonstrates that his manners derive from not having been fortunate enough to have been raised in a barn.
A fondness for wide angle lenses, frenetic cutting, sharp f/x whenever a character exits one dimension for another and nicely dosed score all contribute to the triumphant nonsense.