I am a huge fan of the British Television series “Mr. Bean”, created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis (who would go on to write “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and write and direct “Love, Actually). The series, available on DVD and shown on PBS stations from time to time, follows the adventures of Mr. Bean (Atkinson), a largely silent, slightly bitter, single British man, who finds himself in various predicaments. Because the character is largely silent, he gets into a variety of situations leading to a lot of physical comedy. And he is largely reminiscent of great comedians like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
A few years ago, they made a film called simply “Bean”, which was released in Europe before it came to the United States. A huge hit, the film was scheduled for release in later summer here in America and quickly flopped. It’s easy to see why the character is such a draw in Europe; because he almost never speaks, it isn’t a lot of work to translate his dialogue for foreign countries. Everyone understands physical humor. “Bean” was a dreadful film. The story quickly builds a pretense of getting the character to Los Angeles where he interacts with his host family and their two ‘adorable’ kids and Burt Reynolds plays a supporting role. The film chose to replay a number of situations from the series and added two kids, who could, presumably, relate to the overgrown child in Bean. It didn’t work.
When I first saw the trailer for “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”, the newest film featuring the Rowan Atkinson creation, I was intrigued. It seemed to be a thinly veiled re-working of the Jacques Tati classic “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” with the Bean character taking the place of Mr. Hulot. Jacques Tati’s films are also significant for their sparing use of dialogue and it seemed like the translation might lead to more success.
I was very naïve.
“Holiday” starts promisingly. Bean (Atkinson) speeds his little Mini Cooper to a broken down church barely making the announcement of the winner of their big raffle. As it is June in England, the torrential rain is dampening everyone’s sprits and Bean is especially eager to win an expense paid trip to the sunny beaches of Cannes. He wins and he has a couple of amusing moments at the beginning of the journey. After he arrives in Paris, and finds the train to Cannes, he asks a gentleman to take some video of him boarding the train. The gentleman misses the train and Bean soon realizes the man’s young son has been left behind on the train. Bean realizes he has to help reunite them and they set off on a trip across France, trying to get to Cannes. Along the way, they cross paths with an American film director (Willem Dafoe) who is also on his way to the Cannes Film Festival and the young French actress (Emma de Caunes) he is courting.
“Mr. Bean’s Holiday” misfires on just about every count. Even the amusing situations he gets involved in on the train to Paris, at the beginning of his journey, are just that, amusing. They aren’t so funny you will forever remember them forever, or so funny they redeem the film, they only manage to create a smile. The best of these is when Bean wanders into a restaurant at Gare Du Lyon, because he has some time to kill before taking the train to Cannes, he decides to eat a meal. He inadvertently orders a Platter Fruit De Mer from the Maitre’ D (Jean Rochefort, “The Man on the Train”) and is shocked to find a huge platter of oysters and large prawns, complete with eyes, delivered to his table. Atkinson is a gifted comedian with an extremely expressive face and we instantly feel his pain when he eats his first raw oyster.
But this same gifted comedian can’t help make other scenes more than slightly amusing. For instance, he tires to amuse the boy on the train by pasting pieces of paper on his eyelids and tongue and make them move around. This is just creepy. Later, he interrupts a screening of a film at the Cannes Film Festival in a protracted bit of unfunny business, which points to a very obvious joke.
Why do these films fall so flat? It seems a shame they attempt to make these films appeals to such a broad audience. In each, Bean is paired with precocious children in a blatant attempt to both appeal to this demographic and point out the obvious comparisons between Bean’s character and the children. “Holiday” is rated G because it contains nothing that could be considered even slightly racy or daring. But I think little kids will be bored by Bean’s relatively low-key antics.
One of the great things about the show is Bean was usually a little bitter about how put upon he felt. He felt entitled to certain things and when he didn’t get them, he became slightly exasperated. In the films, the attempts to make him universally appealing have robbed him of this aspect of his character and simply serve to make him boring.
There are two very funny moments in “Holiday”. At one point, Bean begins to karaoke or pantomime to an aria from an opera as people walking through a French market stop to watch. Later, Willem Dafoe’s American director premieres his latest film at the Cannes Film Festival and we get to see snippets of the overly pretentious piece of crap he has created and is so clearly in love with.
But these moments are few and far between and it takes a long time to get there and a long time after they happen until the film finally ends. When the film does finally end, you feel a sense of relief. You no longer need to wait, hoping something, anything funny might happen. Sure, it is a wait in vain, but you never give up hope.
“Mr. Bean’s Holiday” isn’t funny enough, amusing enough or clever enough to warrant your money or time. That’s sad because Rowan Atkinson is a very funny guy and Mr. Bean has provided some hilarious moments on his television series. Rent that on DVD instead.