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Archive for Friday, August 24, 2007

Beloved cretin returns for ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’

August 24, 2007

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Rowan Atkinson portrays the walking, seldom-talking catastrophe in tweed, Mr. Bean, in the comedy "Mr. Bean's Holiday."

Rowan Atkinson portrays the walking, seldom-talking catastrophe in tweed, Mr. Bean, in the comedy "Mr. Bean's Holiday."

Movie
Mr. Bean's Holiday ** 1/2

Mr. Bean, a walking, seldom-talking catastrophe in tweed, wins a vacation to the south of France and has many mishaps along the way. If Brit comic Rowan Atkinson really is retiring his creation, he's kissing him off in style with this often charming road picture that has none of the crass Hollywood tone of the "Bean" of 10 years ago.

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Mr. Bean yanks his head out of that turkey and rediscovers his charm for "Mr. Bean's Holiday," a child-friendly and often adorably childish homage to his inspiration, the great French clown Jacques Tati.

And if Brit comic Rowan Atkinson really is retiring his greatest creation, he's certainly kissing him off in style with this glossy, often charming road picture that has none of the coarse or crass tone of the Hollywood hit "Bean" of 10 years ago.

Mr. Bean, a walking, seldom-talking catastrophe in tweed, wins a vacation to the south of France. He has many mishaps along the way. But Bean is indulged like the 8-year-old he really is, like every silly twit Brit-tourist he represents to the people indulging him - the French.

But the movie, unlike the high-speed train trip that takes up the first half hour, is slow to get going, as Bean has minor accidents with coffee and a computer and difficulties with the language. "Gracias," he says to every question posed to him. In French.

It's only when he faces his first encounter with French cuisine (oysters) and loses his lunch and his ride that the movie finds its comic footing, with Bean trekking through the south of France with a Russian kid (Max Baldry) he has selfishly, foolishly but accidentally separated from his dad.

Bean loses his cash and his train ticket. The gags pile up as, in one inspired stretch, he lip-syncs a wide repertoire of tunes to tourists in a picturesque French town square. They only start tossing him Euros when he mimes out the comic-tragic "O Mio babbino caro" by Puccini, with feeling.

A bus ticket is bought and then lost to a chicken, leading Bean on a cross-country bike race that sees him passing a peleton of racing cyclists, losing the bike, trying to steal a slower-than-slow motorbike from its owner, and so on.

The basic idea here was to turn Atkinson and Bean loose on France with just a compass and a camcorder (Bean tapes his trip, and some of the movie we see through a viewfinder). He mimics parkour, the French-made sport of climbing, crawling, leaping and running to cover the ground between two points in a straight line. Bean does it slowly, obliviously.

He falls afoul of a film set where a pretentious director (Willem Dafoe, pretty good) and his ingenue (Emma de Caunes of "The Science of Sleep," adorable) are recreating World War II in France. For a yogurt commercial.

And it all ends in Cannes, on the beach, during the film festival.

Bean, who first came to fame on TV in Britain and then the States, works better in small doses on the tube. Having to come up with enough bits to fill a movie was a struggle. Atkinson's rubber-faced expressions, his bug eyes and wiggling ears and infantile pose could very easily be lost on the large screen. But TV director Steve Bendelack knows how to film the guy - obnoxiously up close, for the most part, or as a tiny befuddled figure lost in the big, wide world.

No wonder kids adore him.

Paris and the south of France are lovely, and the whole is backed by a score of accordion and harmonica cliches. Atkinson acknowledges his debt to the late, great Tati, creator of "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday," with the film and doesn't suffer much by the comparison.

And if this is the last time we see him, there's something very right about Bean finding a sunset to walk off into, and that this sunset is on a lovely French Riviera beach at Cannes. Ask any child and they'll tell you. He's earned it.

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