'Mr. Bean's Holiday'

Caricature's second trip abroad stumbles on worn-out slapstick

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In the second Mr. Bean feature film starring Rowan Atkinson as the mumbling, stumble-bumbling nitwit he created for British television, our slapstick hero tries and largely fails to take a relaxing French vacation. His first big-screen adventure, a decade ago, took him to America. Outside of England, it's hard to explain Bean's appeal -- and getting harder. These days, he's got a weirder wild-eyed leer, a scary 5 o'clock shadow that puts Nixon's to shame and more tics than a Pennsylvania deer season.

Mr. Bean enters a church-raffle drawing. The winning ticket is 919. He's crushed because his number is 616 -- until turned upside down. So he wins that coveted "dream holiday" and a camcorder to go with it. But once in Paris, both the language and the seafood platters are problematic. His oysters end up in the purse of a lady next to him. "You speak very good French," someone says. "Gracias," he replies.

It's one of his half a dozen or so coherent words in the entire film.

'Mr. Bean's Holiday'
  • Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Emma de Caunes, Max Baldry, Willem Dafoe
  • Director: Steve Bendelack
  • Rating: PG for brief mild language
  • Web site: http://www.dotcomedy.com/bean/

Getting ready to board the train to Cannes, he asks a Russian film director to camcord him -- causing the director to miss the train containing his frantic son inside. Attempts to cheer up the boy, Stepan (Max Baldry), are unsuccessful. Mr. Bean speaks only gibberish. Stepan -- who wisely slaps him -- speaks only Russian.

Bean and Boy get kicked off the train. Bean then disrupts an epic yogurt commercial being shot by egomaniacal director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe). Next they hitch a ride with cute young actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes), who is heading to Cannes for the premiere of Clay's film. Will the "kidnapped" kid be reunited with his dad there?

"Mr. Bean's Holiday" inevitably invites comparison with the classic 1953 Jacques Tati farce, "Mr. Hulot's Holiday." One of its better moments -- Bean peddling an old bike past a team of pro cyclists -- is, in fact, taken directly from Tati. Ripoff or homage? The eternal question ...

All in all, this kid flick has chuckles but few real laughs. Atkinson's antiquated mugging seems like Pee-Wee warmed over, with a kind of annoyingly over-the-top pratfall mime you'd get from Marcel Marceau only after a stroke. It relies mostly on the old comedy-of-frustration invented by W.C. Fields, with set pieces that take too long to deliver gags that are too weak.

There is, however, one truly inspired sequence -- a heavy-metal-to-grand-opera musical pantomime, culminating in Mr. Bean's perfect lip-synching of the entire "O mio babbino caro" aria from "Gianni Schicchi," using the "dead" Russian boy in his arms as a prop. It is truly hilarious -- almost, but not quite, enough to revive this Has-Bean.

Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .


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