Directed by Jean-Marie Poiré in 1993, "The Visitors" is without a doubt one of the funniest, most quotable and most emblematic of all French comedies, marking the refreshing come-back of old-school popular cinema, in the same vein than its ancestor "La Grande Vadrouille" and descendant "Asterix: Mission Cléopatre". No social commentary, no political correctness, only pure entertainment for both kids and adults, notably carried by the unforgettable buffoonery of Christian Clavier as Jacquouille la Fripouille and his immortal "OK-kay"?
Proof that the film doesn't take its comical premise for granted; it takes almost half an hour to build the set-up before the adventure can finally take off. "The Visitors" begins in an extremely convincing historical set-up, in 1123, during a thrilling fight opposing the King Louis VI "the Fat" to his English cousin. The English are defeated thanks to the intervention of Godefroy who saves his king in extremis by decapitating an English fighter; then as a reward for his bravery, Godefroy is made Count of Montmirail and is promised to marry a duke's daughter, Frenegonde de Pouille, played by Valérie Lemercier. Victim of a hallucination, he accidentally kills his to-be father in law, as a result, the marriage is canceled. "Only God can resurrect the dead", objects Jacquouille. Yes, but Eusebius, the Wizard, proposes another solution. Time is like a mountain made of underground galleries, and one of his most secret recipes can get Godefroy back to the past, one brief instant before the incident.
Naturally, it all goes wrong and both Godefroy and Jacquouille (who had to drink first, 'just in case') are ejected in 1992. After that, the comedic core of "The Visitors" depends on a simple yet realistic promise: any person who'd be accidentally put in another era would not really be like fish in water. Think of Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" who was only thirty years too early: he was naturally seen as a weird guy. Applying the same logic, it's quite understandable that the Count Godefroy the Brave and his servant Jacquouille, who were almost nine centuries too late, would be believed to be insane. And while this is already funny, it's even funnier when they are not, like Jacquouille who lives a tender romance with an exuberant trash trailer, played by his real-life wife, Marie-Anne Chazel.
The comparison with "Back to the Future" doesn't end here, like Robert Zemeckis, Jean-Marie Poiré doesn't take the comical premise of the plot for granted, to let the film go for cheap jokes begging us to laugh. The script is rich in many subplots that enrich the main story, and the performances of all the cast have the perfect dosage of over-the-top mannerisms and realistic behavior. Reno acts very naturally like a real Knight confident about his majesty, while Clavier delivers a magnificent comical performance as Jacquouille, proving that he's the worthy successor of Louis de Funes. Jacquouille la Fripouille has quickly become one of the most memorable characters of French Cinema, something that most comedies tried to achieve in an artificial way, but the public immediately loved Jacquouille, and he's now part of French Pop-Culture.
And the performance of Clavier is more impressive because he also plays another prominent character of the film, as the descendant of Jacquouille, the alliteratively named Jacques-Henri Jacquard a snobbish nouveau riche who bought the Montmirail castle. Valérie Lemercier also plays another character as the Countess Beatrice, descendant of Godefroy. Only an actress with the talent of Lemercier could have turned such a dull and bland character into an unforgettable caricature of the typical aristocrat woman, but touching in her naivety when she believes Godefroy is her cousin Hubert who mysteriously disappeared after an accidental raid. The film earned her a César for Best Supporting Actress, while it was nominated for most of the major categories. But nonetheless, it was the most popular French film at that time.
And speaking of popularity, that the film made half the success of the more uninspired "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" says a lot about the impact of Media buzz and Internet in a movie's success. Had the movie been directed 15 years later, it would have probably dethroned "La Grande Vadrouille" in the French box-office but then again, can you imagine "The Vistors" set in the 2000's, with all the movie conventions it implies: racial political correctness, special-effects overdose and all that stuff or maybe worse: excessive sentimentalism like in "Bievenue Ches les Ch'tis". I have nothing personal against Dany Boon's "Ch'tis" films but the film received so much publicity that at the end, it wasn't successful because it was popular, but quite the opposite. If only it was good enough to be forgivable, but I can't forgive a comedy that ends in an emotional note, when a punch line is required.
I remember when the movie came out, it was the phenomenon of the end of the year, everyone was talking about it with so many superlatives that I couldn't believe a movie would be that funny, especially a French one. Well, I saw it on TV the first time and I laughed, my parents laughed, the whole family laughed and never did a slower moment ever change that feeling, there was not even a slow moment, the film was funny from beginning to end, with an exquisite twist at the end, the so-called punch line that cruelly lacked at the end of Dany Boon's film. At the end, the hysterical incomprehension of you-know-who when he finds himself you-know-where was the icing on an already delicious cake served with a magnificent Gothic music. We all laughed to tears, and the fun that never deserted the film is the proof that sometimes the simplest plot premises can make the most hilarious films. I was not in love with the film but with the story and the way everything worked as a set-up for a hilarious conclusion.
Review by ElMaruecan82 from the Internet Movie Database.