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Worth a hill of beans

For fans of the odd comedian this film will not disappoint

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I admit it.  I’m an unabashed Mr. Bean fan.  Ever since I first caught sight of Rowan Atkinson’s performance as this unique comic character in the British TV series, I’ve been hooked. 

There’s something strangely engrossing about how Bean is such a weird amalgam.  On the surface, he’s this seemingly innocent, childlike bumbling idiot who constantly veers from one mishap or life-threatening accident to another.  Yet lurking right under the surface — accented by his constantly darting, hooded eyes — is a slightly demonic personality that makes you think Bean just loves causing mayhem.  That balance of naivete and devilish mischief is at the core of Atkinson’s brilliant creation. 

Topping it off, the actor’s gangly physical comedy makes you constantly wait for his next high-stepping, klutzy pratfall or amazing double-take. 

In this latest incarnation, which comes almost a decade after the first movie, Mr. Bean wins the grand prize at his church’s big lottery.  It’s an all-expense-paid vacation in the South of France, a trip that coincides with the annual Cannes Film Festival.  Along with hotel and transportation, Bean also is presented with a new video camera, an electronic gadget with which he immediately becomes obsessed in true Beanlike fashion. 

Without delay, we are launched onto Bean’s big adventure as he takes the Chunnel train to Paris, where he needs to change terminals to catch his express train to Cannes and his idyllic sojourn on the French Riviera. 

As is always the case, physical expression, as opposed to actual dialogue, is at the heart of Bean’s means of communication.  In this film, about the only words we hear coming out (in that deep, Bean basso voice) are “Bean,” “oui” and “gracias,” a funny example of Bean’s obliviousness to the differences between French and Spanish. 

The fact that he speaks no French beyond “oui” sets up the first major mixup that is central to the plot.  After exiting the first Paris train station, Bean shows a taxi driver a picture of the Gare de Lyon station where he needs to go.  When he turns to pick up his suitcase, another passenger leaps into Bean’s taxi, which takes off.  He then enters an identical cab that pulls up, mistakenly thinking he has already instructed the driver of his destination. 

Of course, he ends up on the absolute opposite side of town.  Once he realizes his error, he then walks across Paris, blindly following his ever-present pocket compass, even if it leads him to walk over people, benches and through mind-boggling busy traffic. 

Arriving at the correct station and realizing he has time to spare, Bean walks into the terminal’s main restaurant, where he’s immediately whisked to a table by an unctuous maitre d’, presented a menu, all in French, and intimidated into ordering a huge platter of seafood he doesn’t comprehend. 

In one of the film’s first truly funny, if predictable, moments, we get a chance to witness Atkinson’s amazing ability to turn the simple slurping of oysters or eating crawfish (shells and all!) into some very compelling comedic shtick.  Without giving anything away, any woman who sees “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” from now on will probably think twice before sticking her hand into her purse to grab a beeping cell phone. 

As Bean is about to get on his “fast train” to Cannes, he uses his unique body language to persuade a man (Karel Roden) to take his video camera and tape a silly sequence of him getting on the train. 

Again, in typical Bean fashion, he manages to screw things up (by the simple movement of a paper coffee cup and soft drink can), leaving the desperate man on the platform.  The train pulls away with the man’s young son (Max Baldry) screaming and pounding on the window, after realizing his father is being left behind. 

Naturally, unbeknownst to Bean, the man is a famous Russian filmmaker en route to the Cannes Film Festival to serve on the festival’s jury.  From that point on, we are sped along from scene to scene and from one seemingly incongruous silliness to another, but because it’s Mr. Bean, all is somehow believable. 

Unfortunately, the pace of “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” is often off-kilter.  At times everything moves perfectly, but all too often I found myself getting antsy and looking at my watch.  That’s not a good sign in any film, but it’s particularly a problem when the movie’s only 87 minutes long. 

It needs more scenes like the one in a French country market after Bean and the director’s son, who now have become unlikely traveling companions, have lost all their money, again thanks to Bean’s bumbling.  Atkinson’s lip-synching operatic performance in that marketplace is a true showstopper. 

Another highlight comes near the end, as the self-absorbed director is used as a way to make fun of the entire independent film industry. 

It’s just that those great moments are delayed by a number of time-consuming traveling sequences that don’t add anything new. 

However, for younger audiences, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” will be a pleasure, and of course, Bean addicts will be happy to see Atkinson’s alter ego return to the big screen. 

Mr. Bean’s Holiday


Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Willem Dafoe and Emma de Caunes

Director: Steve Bendelack

Rated: PG for mild language

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