A film review by Craig J. Koban

MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY jjj

2007, G, 88 mins.

 

Rowan Atkinson: Mr. Bean / Sam: Max Baldry / Karel Roden: Emil Dachevsky / Emma de Caunes: Sabine / Willem Dafoe: Carson Clay

 

Directed by Steve Bendelack / Written by Hamish McColl / Based on the character created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis.

There should be no denying that Rowan Atkinson is a comic genius.  He has been listed in THE OBSERVER as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy history.  He also was recently rated as one of the top 50 comedy acts of all time as voted by fellow comedians.  He was also the star of the BLACKADDER TV series for the BBC, which is widely regarded as one of the finest situation comedies ever produced.  As far as British performers go, Atkinson will rightfully go down as one of the all-time greats. 

At least he is considered just that in his native UK...and perhaps here in Canada.  Yet, Atkinson has never really developed a following in the US as other landmark comic acts have, like Monty Pythonís Flying Circus.  Perhaps the only short-term notoriety that he has received stateside was with his character of Mr. Bean, who saw the light of day in the cinemas way back in 1997 in BEAN: THE MOVIE. 

However, that was certainly not the first incarnation of that irreverent persona.  Atkinson, in collaboration with Richard Curtis, created Bean in 1990 as a series of 14 half hour episodes.  Broadcast first on January of 1990 and culminating in October of 1995, Mr. Bean became a comedy phenomenon in the UK.  It would eventually become syndicated in over 200 territories and Atkinson subsequently has became so immortalized in the role that he is often forgotten for his past comedy work.  Whether or not Great Britain wanted it, Mr. Bean became a sort of unwanted official ambassador of the country and would go on to become the face of the nation, that of a clueless and easily ridiculed moron. 

However, that is precisely why I have always had such a fondness for Bean: Heís not a mean-spirited and brutish lout that inflicts pain and misery on others because of his lack of poise and refinement.  I think the key to why I like Bean is that he is a lovable idiot.  Bean is not only stupid, but absurdly stupid, the type of innocuous halfwit that is more harmless than harmful.  Throughout his exploits on TV and in his first movie, Bean was presented as that rare type of disaster-prone nitwit that was impossible to hate.  Described by Atkinson as essentially a ďan infant trapped in a man's body,Ē the comic pleasure of Bean is watching him try to find solutions to seemingly common and simple everyday problems. 

The most hilarious aspect to Bean was that he seems unrelentingly unaware of the basic ways in which the world works, not to mention that he totally disregards others in the process.  One of the most riotous bits in BEAN: THE MOVIE showcased how he managed to correct a huge smear that occurred in the painting ďWhistlerís MotherĒ after he sneezed on it.  Whatís funny is (a) how he managed to fix it and (b) that he does not understand why normal people take offense to how he fixed it.

Perhaps ever more crucial to Beanís overall comic effect is that he is a whimsical throwback to silent films, relying purely on physical slapstick comedy and the use of very sparse dialogue.  When Bean does, in fact, speak, it's usually in vocal utterances and monosyllabic grunts that could hardly be classified as any language in particular.  Citing comparisons between Atkinson and Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton is not altogether unfair.  Like those two humorist geniuses,  Atkinson gets incredible comedic mileage more for what he does and less by what he says. 

There are a lot of moments just like that in his new Ė and reportedly last Ė Bean film entitled MR. BEANíS HOLIDAY, which could have found inspiration from inspired by the similar antics of Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot in MR. HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953).  In this film Bean says good-bye to his home nation and takes a trip through France and ends up crashing the Cannes Film Festival.  One moment in particular would have made Keaton proud, which involves Bean, with video camera in tow, exiting a movie theatre and walking from its rooftop onto various vehicles - some moving, some not - and then finally making his way to the streets and to the beaches of Cannes, all while completely being unaware that he could have seriously killed himself if he took one misstep.  Thatís the Beanian touch: a normal human being would have gone down the stairs and exited through the door.  In his universe, that would have been too complicated. 

There are other scenes that inspire giggles.  At one point following a misunderstanding involving a taxi at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, Bean is forced to make his way rather unorthodoxly towards the station to board his next train towards Cannes (he essentially looks at his compass and proceeds to walk in one straight line for what seems like miles, never stopping for pedestrians, vehicles on the road, or even buildings for that matter).  Another sequence later shows Beanís particular distaste for the fish cuisine at a posh French restaurant.  Realizing that he despises oysters, he manages to find a sneaky and sly way of disposing of them.  Letís just say that if youíre eating at a luxurious restaurant and a simpleton sitting at a table next to you appears to dislike oysters, make sure you look at your handbag before you reach in it for your cell phone. 

How did a fool like this manage to get a trip to France?  Well, he won the trip at a Church raffle when his number, 919, is picked (of course, Bean at first thinks heís a loser, as he reads his ticket upside down as 616).  By the time he reaches Paris (a miracle in itself for this man), he starts taking shots of everything with his Sony camcorder.  At one point he becomes so fixated with having himself be in a shot walking into a train, he stumbles upon and asks Cannes jury member and Russian film critic Emil Dachevsky (Karel Roden) to take some shots of him.  After a series of shots, the train starts to move and Bean boards, but Dachevsky is unable to also get on board.  Bean, in the meantime, hooks up with the criticís son Sam (Max Bauldry), who is also on board.

Of course, a series of disastrous mishaps follow that causes Bean and Sam to lose their wallets and passports.  As the two make their way through to the next station and miss the next train, the two see Samís father go by on another.  He tries to hold up his cell phone number against the window so Bean and the boy can immediately call him.  Unfortunately, Bean writes down every number correctlyÖexcept the last one.  So, being who he is, Bean decides to write down every permutation of the phone number that he can possibly think of without knowing the precise last digit.  Of course, his list is incredibly long, and the two run out of change for the phone.  So, Bean does what anyone else in his position would do when faced with having no money: he begs for money on the streets by miming Pucciniís ďO mio babbino caroĒ.  Finding someone to wire him the money would have been too complicated. 

More bad Bean mishaps ensue.  He and Sam manage to secure buss tickets to Cannes, but Beanís ticket gets caught on a chickenís leg (donít ask), and he manages to follow it all the way to the country in a high speed pursuit involving a pickup truck and a ten speed bike.  Of course, this leads Bean to stumble on to the set of a quaint French village, circa WWII.  It turns out to be a unreservedly pretentious TV commercial for yogurt, complete with German soldiers, and it is directed by control freak and the downright egomaniacal Carson Clay (played very humorously by Willem Dafoe).  Of course, the doofus in Bean all but destroys the set. 

Still desperate to get to Cannes, Bean hitchhikes and is picked up by unknown French film star named Sabine (the gorgeous Emma de Caunes), who is also on her way to Cannes, but for the 59th Film Festival.  She has a small part in Clay's newest film and does not want to miss the premiere.  The film that is shown is one of the filmís comic high points, which highlights the height of vanity by its director (the title card reads ďCarson Clay presents a Carson Clay film starring Carson Clay).  The film is such a sanctimonious bore that it puts half of the audience to sleep.  Unfortunately for Sabine, her major scene was cut by the obnoxious Clay.  However, Bean manages to sneak into the screening and you just know that some of his vacation footage that was shot on his camera will make its way to the screen at Clay's premiere. 

MR. BEANíS HOLIDAY is not a laugh-out-loud riot, nor is a completely wasted comic vehicle for Atkinsonís agreeable talents.  Certainly, there are many scenes in the film that have a large set up for laughs and never really pay off in any hilarious manner (some of the jokes and sight gags are a bit too telegraphed).   Yet, at least with every failed joke there is one that works, and at least Atkinson and company have a sort of daring imagination and youthful spirit to some of the hijinks.  The film is also cute and warm hearted and not ill-tempered and crude with its comedy (itís rated G and is refreshingly entertaining for both children and adults).  The film succeeds, more or less, by being a farce of sustained buffoonery and overt silliness.  As effective counter programming to the other R-rated raunch fests like SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP (great in their own respects) MR. BEANíS HOLIDAY is breezy and inoffensively droll.  It does a decent job of showcasing Atkinsonís rubber faced and spidery-limbed imbecile to proper effect and Dafoe is spot-on funny in his tongue-in-cheek performance as the director with a vision that can barely hold up his own self-riotousness. 

For what itís worth, I did not laugh hysterically throughout MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY,  but I sure smiled a lot.  The film definitely does not click into gears all of the time and its plot is just a silly excuse for a series of cobbled together comedic skits, but that should not bother those that have a taste for slapstick, and Atkinson is in fine form here.  This is reason enough to recommend the film, which professes to be nothing more than a pleasant and amusing diversion.  However, the film does have ambition.  It wisely ends with Ė you guessed it Ė Bean and all of the characters from the film miming a large musical finale, singing along with the famous song by Charles Trenet, "La Mer" (Beyond the Seas), with arms raised in the air.  For a man of his limited intellectual faculties, and his penchant for finding the craziest and most insipidly complicated solutions to problems, any other ending would have been a let down. 

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