Concerning the character of Mr. Bean, there are two camps: either you enjoy the warm waters of slapstick Rowan Atkinson provides or you bristle at the thought of spending time with a very cyclical and tedious character. With "Mr. Bean's Holiday," I'm trapped somewhere in the middle, which is a new sensation for me.
When Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) wins a trip to France for a Cannes holiday on the beach, he couldn't be more elated. Off to the warmth armed with his video camera and suitcase, Bean immediately falls into trouble when he separates a son from his traveling father (Karel Roden), befriends a struggling actress (Emma de Caunes), and interrupts the latest cinematic opus from director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe). Now lost in France without his belongings, Bean faces an uphill slapstick battle if he ever wants to see the beaches of Cannes and relax.
1997's "Bean" (has it really been that long?) brought Atkinson's beloved troublemaker to the big screen with engorged ambition and mass audience approval. Exploiting seven years of the character's television success, the film was a gigantic hit. However, for many like myself, the feature was a prolonged nightmare of overtly cutesy pratfalls and tiresome antics, oversold with obnoxious relish by Atkinson. "Bean" was my introduction to the character, and I distinctly recall begging the cinema gods to spare me another chapter in the life of the pudding-faced mute.
It comes as a surprise to have enjoyed "Holiday" as much as I did. To be fair, this is still traditional Bean-centric goods, entirely dependent on the situations presented to Atkinson and his tireless efforts. The actor's reactions to everyday items, or snatches of outright lunacy, are what define the Bean experience. "Holiday" makes the proper move by taking Bean out of his element and sticking him in the French countryside, where the fish-out-of-water theme can been massaged more vigorously.
If I wasn't totally enamored with "Holiday," I did find myself laughing with Bean as his lust for Cannes takes to him to strange foreign places. Director Steve Bendelack has a more assured hold over the story than the previous effort, and tossing the character into the great outdoors allows the picture more freedom to silly it up in agreeable ways. Watching Bean turn a sidewalk performance into a full-blown opera or enjoying his video camera time is solid material, miles more entertaining than the last movie.
However, a little Bean goes a long way, and while Bendelack and Atkinson make a concerted effort to kick out the jams for this last Bean adventure (including a fantastic piece of physical comedy and a musical number to close the film), the material strains to find the funny, often resorting to Atkinson's indefatigable mugging to bleed a joke out of a scene. It wears thin quickly, making even the 78-minute running time feel like a decade when one is in the thick of Bean prancing around the frame.
"Holiday" is an improvement for Bean and his unbelievable franchise, and if he's truly taking a permanent vacation (we'll see what the box office has to say on this matter), it's better he exits on this livelier note.
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