Reel Opinions

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mr. Bean's Holiday

I cannot exactly claim to be an expert on the Mr. Bean character. The number of episodes that I've seen of his TV show can be counted on one hand, and I have only vague memories of the last attempt to bring him to the big screen (1997's Bean), the strongest memory being that I wasn't very fond of it. So, I walked into Mr. Bean's Holiday with a clean slate of expectations and was ready to be amused. Maybe a clean slate wasn't the best condition to watch this movie. In order to get the fullest out of this movie, you have to be a die-hard fan of the character. And by die-hard, I mean be willing to tolerate the character's backwards English gibberish talk for a full 90 minutes. I was able to tolerate it some of the time, but long before Mr. Bean had reached his final destination of his trip, I had taken more of my fill of the man and his antics.

The plot is simple enough, as is to be expected. The accident-prone Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) has won a dream vacation to France and the beaches of Cannes in a church raffle. Almost immediately, Bean finds a way to turn what should be a luxury vacation into a nightmare. He loses just about everything he brings with him, except for a camcorder, gets separated from his train, and has to make most of the journey on foot or by any means of transportation he can find. Along the way, he befriends a boy (Max Baldry) who is trying to get to Cannes as well to reunite with the father he got separated from. He also hooks up with a lovely young actress (Emma de Caunes) who is on her way to the Cannes Film Festival, where she is featured in the latest art house film/vanity project by pretentious American filmmaker, Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe) that's set to debut at the Festival. By the time Mr. Bean has reached the beaches of Cannes, he has acted as an extra in a World War II movie, chased down a runaway chicken, and is mistaken for a kidnapper and a fugitive.

The idea behind the character of Mr. Bean appeals to me, because it reminds me of many of the great silent film comics of yesteryear. Rowan Atkinson is a skilled physical and visual comic, and playing Bean allows him to exploit this talent, as the character mostly speaks through pantomime, or through grunts and whistles that sometimes resemble English, and sometimes sounds like its own made up language. A majority of the film is made up of a series of loosely connected skits that are strung together, where Mr. Bean finds himself in over his head, or in a situation where he doesn't understand what's going on. Some of these moments are very funny, such as a sequence early in the film where Bean finds himself having to stomach an unappetizing seafood platter at a fancy restaurant. This scene not only showcases Atkinson's comic timing, but also his gift for physical comedy. A majority of the sequences don't work quite as well, unfortunately, and Mr. Bean's Holiday quickly becomes repetitive because of it. We know each time a new scene starts up that Bean is going to start some form of trouble, and we begin to wait for it to happen. I can see this kind of comedy working in a half hour television format, but when stretched to feature length, it becomes tedious. It doesn't help that many of the physical jokes either don't work, or are dragged out to the point that some scenes become endurance tests to watch.

What really struck me odd about Mr. Bean's Holiday is that there is a curious mean streak that runs throughout the film. The movie has been rated G, but some of the humor is too dark for the family audience that it wants to attract. There is a scene where Mr. Bean accidentally leads a man to commit suicide that left me scratching my head at how the MPAA thought this joke was appropriate for a G-rated film. Other scenes that don't belong in a family film include Bean dressing up like a German military soldier and doing a goose step march, while giving the Nazi salute. I bet parents are going to have a grand time explaining that one. It's hard to consider Bean as a hero, because he frequently comes across as a self-absorbed twit who drags innocent bystanders into situations where they are severely injured or sometimes killed, and he does not even seem to care or notice. It's one thing when his own cluelessness leads to accidental antics to himself, but when he starts injuring people for no reason, it's hard to laugh.
Mr. Bean's Holiday is not without scattered moments of amusement, but the entire thing is just too dragged out to work. I found myself in a very strange position while watching the film. I liked the idea behind the character of Mr. Bean, but I did not like Mr. Bean himself. I think the movie needed a softer approach, so that his antics did not come across as being cruel. I understand that the character has a loyal fanbase, and they are certain to enjoy this movie. I enjoyed it myself from time to time, but most of the time, I found myself noticing that 90 minutes spent with this guy was more than any viewer should have to endure. I guess like a lot of things, Mr. Bean is an acquired taste.



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