MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY
Director: Steve Bendelack
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Max Baldry, Emma de Caunes, Karel Roden, Willem Dafoe, Jean Rochefort
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 8/24/07
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Review by Mark Dujsik
It's been ten years since Mr. Bean's feature debut, and time has not treated the character well. Rowan Atkinson's comic creation is just as much a simpleton as he's always been, but the shtick has gotten old. I also don't remember Bean having as much of a nasty streak as he does in Mr. Bean's Holiday. Sure, one could argue it's all ultimately the innocent misanthropy of someone who doesn't know any better, but he's still downright mean on occasion here. This is a mild observation, though, part of the larger picture that Bean is old hat and nothing in this movie makes him seem anything other. Don't get me wrong; I like the old Mr. Bean (his first film was consistently funny, and the show was a late-night staple for me on public television)—his panache for turning the mundane into a comic adventure, his love for a teddy bear overshadowing any human contact he might have, and his naïve sense of making his way through the world. I also believe Atkinson to be one of the more overlooked and underused comic resources we have. The Bean on display here is at once the same but slightly different, and neither familiarity nor change do him well in this outing.
Bean starts off the movie in London (where it's raining, of course), and at a church raffle, they're giving away a trip to scenic Cannes, France and a camcorder to capture all the fun and excitement the winner is sure to have. The winning number, 919, looks vaguely similar to Bean's number, 616, and after a happenstance encounter with a model train, he realizes why. So it's off to Paris, where he accidentally takes a cab to the Arche de la Défense instead of the train station. In usual Mr. Bean style, he hikes his way back the way the crow flies. No person, bench, or building can stand in his way. He loves his new camera, recording every frivolous detail of his trip, including having a man named Emil (Karel Roden) film him as he boards the train. Unfortunately, things turn out badly for Emil, and he's left behind on the platform. There's a strange passive-aggressive tone to the way Bean treats Emil and his misfortune that doesn't endear our hero to us as he's done in the past. Emil's troubles become Bean's because Emil's son Stephan (Max Baldry) is still on the train, causing the two to form an uneasy bond.
The gags come faster and more successfully in the beginning of the movie, and Bean himself still has some of the old affection he's garnered from his past misadventures. His bafflement at the raffle, his affection for his new high-tech toy, his insistence that "gracias" is "thank you" in French, and his trek to the train station are genuinely amusing because they suit his character so well. Things get a little clunkier when he arrives at a fancy French restaurant and inadvertently orders a gastrointestinal nightmare of a seafood platter. I know what you're thinking, but the movie avoids toilet humor, except in one scene where the toilet is the joke. Here are oysters and crayfish in an extravagant setting, and Bean feels obligated to eat as the maitre d' (Jean Rochefort) looks on. Here's where we get our first glimpse of a less likeable Bean, as he uses his napkin to funnel the oozy oysters into the purse of the woman sitting next to him. It's still somewhat amusing, though, and the kicker to the gag—Bean eating an entire crayfish whole, legs flopping wildly in the air as he chews—is funny enough to ignore what he's done to that poor woman. Until her cell phone rings, that is.
Emil gets it worse, and that is, fortunately, the end of Bean being mean to people who don't deserve it. It's also the end of the movie's consistent success with its jokes. There's the semblance of a plot forming in the background as news reports of a strange, British man kidnapping the son of a juror at the Cannes Film Festival, but it's just there so there's some form of tension in the climax. Guess where it takes place. Bean and Stephan try to dial all the variations of the last digit of a cell phone number to get a hold of his father, but events transpire to keep them from Cannes, like Bean leaving his wallet. For money, he puts on a show set to whatever music happens to be playing, culminating in a pantomime to Puccini's "O mio babbino caro," which looks funnier than it actually is. Bean chases down a chicken with a bus ticket stuck to its foot, ends up an extra for a commercial with actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes), and uses the old standby of matchsticks propping open his eyes to drive a long distance (not before burning himself with the car's cigarette lighter, in a moment of really perplexing, uncharacteristic masochism).
The jokes get pretty tired after a while, and there are few flashes to make up for it (an extended attempt to hitch a ride on a really slow-moving bike and Bean's attempt at mush-mouthed French). Mr. Bean's Holiday has one big saving grace near the end in the form of Willem Dafoe, who plays an ego-hungry director, but this isn't supposed to be his show.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.