When it comes to brilliantly mindless slapstick humor, Americans don’t know Bean.
The rest of the world does, though. That’s why Mr. Bean’s Holiday, a charming and winsome G-rated family comedy that greatly improves on the cruder Bean: The Movie, outperformed such crass American hits as Knocked Up, Superbad and Norbit — at the worldwide box office. Yet it barely made a ripple in the United States, where we like our hit comedies dumb and dumber, not dumb and smarter.
That’s a shame, because Mr. Bean’s Holiday, starring Rowan Atkinson as his signature alter ego, is a treat — sweet, good-hearted, genuinely clever. Atkinson is a credit to the tradition of Chaplin, Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis — and even if you don’t like Jerry Lewis, that’s still a good thing.
Bean, the character, is a pure imbecile — not morally pure to be sure, but with the basic disposition and unquestioning incomprehension of a two-year-old: single-mindedly in the moment, innocently malicious, probably nearly inculpable in his fundamental self-centerness.
Naturally, he unknowingly wreaks havoc everywhere he goes, but he does so with the perfect timing and conceptual wit of Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Early in the film is a brilliant shot in which Bean and a stranger, leaving an airport, each hail taxicabs and somehow wind up in each other’s cabs headed to the wrong destinations. It’s as perfectly conceived and executed as the classic scene in City Lights with the expensive car and the blind flower girl, and as casually tossed off.
Like Bean himself, the plot lurches from one misadventure to another, always with a vague goal of arriving at the French Riviera, Bean’s holiday destination after winning an all-expenses-paid holiday trip in a parish raffle. As good as Atkinson is, the film is mildly amusing for the first half-hour or so, but then catches fire in a hilarious scene in which Bean and a young boy named Stepan (excellent Max Baldry) earn some quick money doing street theater.
As he meanders along, Bean weaves an artless web inadvertently ensnaring other characters, starting with Stepan and his father (Karel Roden), a good-hearted French starlet named Sabine (winsome Emma de Caunes), and a narcissistic American film director (hilarious Willem Dafoe) — all of whom are on their way to Cannes, which, of course, is also where Bean wants to go.
Longtime Bean aficionados may find some of the gags familiar from the TV show and the earlier film. Others may feel (what seems plausible to me) that Atkinson has refined his act and given us “Bean’s Greatest Hits” in their ideal form, culminating in a delightful climax approaching feckless transcendence.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.