It is the twelfth century and French nobleman Godefroy de Papincourt (Jean Reno) is assisting King Louis the Fat (Didier Pain) as he enjoys an romantic interlude with the niece of his greatest rival, the English King Henry. However, the English forces catch up with them and Godefroy is forced to save his monarch with expert swordplay. The King is so pleased that he offers him the bride he has always sought: Frénégonde (Valérie Lemercier), the daughter of a duke. What could possibly go wrong? An arrow to the head of his intended's father while in a drugged stupor, perhaps?
Les Visiteurs was an enormous success in its native France, comfortably beating even Jurassic Park at the box office that year. However, it didn't travel quite as well as perhaps some of the more sophisticated humour that many foreigners thought was more prevalent in French cinema, as this was broad and slapstick all the way. The film was scripted by its director Jean-Marie Poiré and its star, Christian Clavier who played Godefroy's serf, righthand man and general dogsbody Jacquouille.
Clavier knew his strengths, and he played to them all the way as the "crass" peasant whose vistas are opened up by a trip into the future. What happens is that Godefroy and his band witness a witch casting spells and arrest her, but she gets her revenge while caged up by spiking the nobleman's water with a potion that causes him to hallucinate. This means he sees his beloved as chased by a bear when in fact she is being chased by her father, who Godefory kills with the aforementioned arrow.
What to do? The only solution as our heroes see it is to go back in time thanks to the magic of the resident priest and stop Godefroy from making his mistake and putting the kibosh on his family tree. Alas, the priest forgets the vital quail's eggs and they the duo are transported all the way to 1992, although it takes a while for them to cotton on. Much is made of the stark contrast between a France centuries after the revolution and the one the time travellers are used to, chiefly the fact that Jacquouille realises he doesn't need to be under the yoke of oppression any further.
They track down their descendants more by accident than design, but find Béatrice (also Lemercier) who now runs Godefroy's castle as a hotel-restaurant, much to his displeasure. She thinks he is her long lost cousin, and he has trouble making anyone accept he hails from the past; meanwhile, Jacquouille's prissy descendant Jacquard (also Clavier) is in charge of running the castle and the butt of most of the jokes. The humour largely relies on the two visitors causing havoc and as much mess as possible, whether it's flooding bathrooms or filling a room with soot from the chimney's secret passageway, and is fine as far as it goes. Reno is always entertaining attempting to keep his dignity, with he and Clavier making a decent enough double act, but Les Visiteurs is undemanding stuff overall. Music by Eric Levi. Keep watching the credits.
[Arrow's Region 2 double disc DVD has a trailer as its only special feature. The sequel is on the second disc.]