FILM / Wayne's worlds apart: Adam Mars-Jones on American juvenilia and French coming-of-age, Wayne's World 2 and Les Visiteurs

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The Independent Culture
Being brainless in a sophisticated way may not be the only secret of making people laugh. But it's done no harm to Mike Myers, originator of the Wayne's World comedy franchise, now opening its second outlet with Wayne's World 2 (PG), directed by first-timer Stephen Surjik. The two heroes, still nominally teenagers, sleep in their baseball caps; one of them, offered an Old Fashion by a scheming seductress, spits it out, saying: 'This Coke's gone bad.' Their innocence defends them.

Garth (Dana Carvey) is the tense, immature one, Wayne (Myers) is the relaxed immature one. There are still some trademark phrases retained from the first film, but Myers (who wrote the script, with Bonnie and Terry Turner) is shrewd enough to know that they who live by the catchphrase will perish by the catchphrase. He distances himself from his supreme earlier venture in this line, an exclamatory Not] contradicting the sentence that goes before it. This appears only once, and then it comes from an unsympathetic minor character who tries to stop the pair from staging their own rock festival.

Teenagers are a recent invention, and Nineties teenagers are certainly different from Sixties teenagers, but in Wayne's World there's no difference. The films successfully address all the baby boom generations in the American esperanto of pop culture. The music is mainly from the Sixties and Seventies, while film references include Woodstock and The Graduate. Luckily, pop culture is a paradoxical isotope, one that decays so quickly that it lasts indefinitely, and no one is likely to feel excluded from things that have been so recycled.

The plot derives from two more recent films that begged to be parodied. Wayne has prophetic dreams in which a Native American leads him to the desert, where Jim Morrison tells him to put on the festival (later christened Waynestock). Morrison tells him not to worry about whether the acts will turn up, saying, 'If you book them, they will come.' (Remember Field of Dreams anyone?)

Wayne's World 2 suffers relatively little from the narrative exhaustion which is the occupational disease of sequels, but individual sequences or subplots have a disturbing tendency to fizzle out - a plot-strand in which Garth is seduced by the lovely Honey Hornee is abandoned before it gets anywhere, though it does give Dana Carvey an opportunity for his Cary Grant impersonation. Hornee is played by Kim Basinger, a star who these days (on the advice of her lawyer and accountant) likes to say Yes to work.

Most frustratingly underdeveloped as a character, and most disappointingly excluded from the working out of the story, is Del, the vintage roadie, played by Ralph Brown. Jim Morrison specified Del as a necessary ingredient of Waynestock, and the heroes went to London to seek him out. (Or Not], since what we see are rudimentary doubles filmed from behind in postcard locations, plus the usual shameless plug for Virgin Atlantic.) It has to be said that Jim Morrison was right for once, and the film is the poorer for its writers' decision to turn this endearing zombie from the Sixties - a sort of Keith Richards without the guitar - abruptly into a nutcase. You have to be pretty sure of yourself to throw away a potentially great comic performance.

Jean-Marie Poire's Les Visiteurs (15) is a time travel farce that has taken the French box office by storm. Its closest relative in film would be Vincent Ward's The Navigator, although that was not a comedy, or Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, which was considerably more sophisticated. The great grand- daddy of them all must be Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankie at the Court of King Arthur.

In the 12th century, Godefory of Montmirail (Jean Reno) drinks a potion which he hopes will return him to the moment in time when he killed his fiancee's father. Unfortunately the wizard has forgotten to include quails' eggs in the poition and so Godefory and his servant Jacquoiolle (subtitled as Jaquasse / Jackass for those who don't know naughty words in French) find themselves in 1992 instead.

The comedy of culture clash works both ways. The visitors smell bad, wreck houses in their ignorance of modern conveniences, and assume that the festive meal prepared for them by the present Countess is only an appetiser. To a 12th- century eye, anyone who lives in a modest house without servants can only be a peasant.

The French traditon doesn't always recognise the distinction between high and low comedy, and there is certainly a boisterousness about the proceedings which some viewers will find wearing. Archaic language is not automatically amusing, and can only suffer by translation into English and subtitles ('Holy Scrotums]' for instance). Christian Clavier playing the servant and also his modern-day descendant, who has bought the castle of Montmirail and turned it into a luxury hotel, does more than his fair share of mugging.

But Jean Reno's Godefory gives the film something very close to a serious core. At first sight he looks merely gormless, with his pudding-bowl haircut, long face and baggy eyes. It isn't long before you accept that this is how a virile Plantagenet is meant to look. Godefory is the only character in the film, in either period, to be passionately attached to something outside himself, to his succession. Godefory may not seem to realise that there might be other ways of waking his vassal than with a kick, but Reno persuades us that the character is not merely attached to his privileges - he's idealistically dedicated to the continuance of his line. He is comic in his reactions to the modern world, but not ridiculous in himself.

Les Visiteurs is on firm ground when it assumes that a liege lord would prefer to go on living in the 12th century, while any right-thinking peasant would make a beeline for the world of fast food and video arcades. It's just that the construction of the screenplay allows us to approve on one level of the emancipation of the serf, while also ridiculing his nouveau riche descendant who, in effect, doesn't know his place.

The film's other dual role is of Frenegonde, Godefory's courtly-love object, and Beatrice, the modern Countess in Lacoste and Chanel, both played by Valerie Remercier. Any culture can produce an icy glamour goddess, any culture can produce a Catherine Deneuve; it takes real maturity to throw up a sharp-nosed, warm-hearted, upper-class pseudo twit. With Valerie Remercier, France produces her own Penelope Keith, and comes of age.

(Photograph omitted)