Chaplin, he isn't
(Originally published August 30, 2007)
The new Steve Bendelack movie, "Mr. Bean's Holiday," is busy pleasing audiences and doing hopping business abroad, which might be the place to see it if you want to enjoy it.
This underwhelming movie has made nearly $200 million overseas, a huge sum by anyone's standards, all without the help of what usually propels our own blockbusters to the top of the box office heap--explosions and guns, A-list actors having A-list sex, raunchy comedies that press against the boundaries of good taste.
While those elements hardly have a place in a G-rated family movie such as "Holiday," given the film's disappointing lack of a narrative drive, a little spirited action could have gone a long way in helping to pick up its sluggish pace.
Rowan Atkinson returns as Bean, who this time out is caught in an ongoing series of foibles that spring from his winning a video camera and a trip to Cannes, France, at a church auction. Naturally, it's a set-up for disaster, with the clueless Bean bumbling out of England as he travels via train to his foreign destination.
Along the way, he manages to separate a young boy (Max Baldry) from his father, a filmmaker also traveling to Cannes for the film festival being held there. "Holiday" designs to reunite father and son, with the young actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes) and the director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe) joining the forced tomfoolery.
It's the mashing together of these relationships and the plot threads they generate that allow the film its formidable payoff. The ending is the best, most ingenious part of the show--it’s very clever--though it comes too late to save it.
As appealing as Atkinson is as Bean, he always has been best served in small doses. Many have compared him to Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin’s silent films, though he seldom has been as inventive or as touching.
Unlike Chaplin, you don’t connect with Bean on a human level, which was key to Chaplin’s appeal. Instead, Bean is more of a curiosity whose gimmick is an exaggerated pantomime of Chaplin or, for that matter, Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, who Atkinson has cited as his chief inspiration for Bean. That proves especially true here, since "Mr. Bean's Holiday" is essentially a riff on 1953's "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday."
What we're left with in “Holiday” is a movie that is good-naturedly banal. Some scenes are funny, such as when Bean lip-syncs to an opera or when he attempts to eat shellfish at a French bistro. Trouble is, there aren't enough of those scenes to recommend the movie. Bean screws up his face on cue, which likely will appeal to fans or to the very young. But for those who appreciate the power of Bean in brevity, this Bean leads to too much bad gas.