“Stupid is as stupid does,” the idiot savant Forrest Gump famously said, and no one makes stupid funnier than Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. Cynical critics may think they have outgrown the era of silent slapstick comedy, but attempting to do it at all is harder and riskier than merely coming up with cheap, vulgar jokes to shock audiences. And Atkinson does it as well as anyone can among modern performers and he deserves comparison with the older silent comic geniuses like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
His second outing, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, finds him on vacation in France after a funny opening scene where he initially doesn’t even realize he’s won a trip to Cannes because he read his lottery number upside down (616, instead of 919). His new toy this time is not a teddy bear, but a small DV camera. Of course, as only Bean can do, he quickly loses his personal belongings and unwittingly becomes responsible for a boy on a train, Stepan (Max Baldry), being separated from his father, Emil (Karel Roden). Thus starts a journey for him to rectify his mistakes and somehow get to his ultimate beach destination.
Though Mr. Bean’s Holiday, his second cinematic outing, is not quite successful as a movie, it is certainly a step up from the first film, Bean, which made the mistake of having too much talking about the plot (though not from Bean, of course, except for a few strange word-like noises) and too little of Bean doing his physical comedy. This one adheres closer to the original series by putting Bean in a strange foreign land, thus yielding more opportunities for lone, awkward situations. And Atkinson continuously scores laughs whether doing a street impersonation of an aria or carrying an outhouse to the middle of the road.
Unfortunately, perhaps in an attempt to make it more family-friendly than the first film’s crude humor, the filmmakers have also made it a little bit too cloying. This is a little jarring considering that the Bean character is actually nastier and more self-centered than the other famous silent clowns like the Tramp. There is nothing wrong with trying to give Bean something of a conscience when he is taking care of Stepan but the bonding of the two characters is pushed too far and made too sugar-syrupy.
There are other supporting characters that dot the screen along the way such as Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe), a director premiering his vanity project at the Cannes Film Festival and a French actress, Sabine (Emma De Caunes), who agrees to give Bean and Stepan a ride. Their screen time is appropriately more limited than the supporting roles in the first film because Bean is at the center but they still feel a little too extraneous. There is a nice payoff at the end, however, when Bean inevitably somehow redeems himself at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film, however, should have ended a beat earlier. I know the grand musical montage at the end was probably meant as something of a parody of a French or Bollywood musical but it feels out of place for a Bean movie. As it is, like some other parts of the film, it feels like a corny conclusion of “everyone lives happily ever after” with large quotation marks.
Atkinson has said that this will be his last outing as Bean though he also commented, “Never say never.” If they ever decide to do another Bean film, I say reduce the plot and sound and just have Bean. The recent film version of The Simpsons made the safe choice to just make a funny, extended episode of the original. A feature length of complete silent comedy from Bean would shame all the recent vulgar comedies.
Rating: **1/2 out of ****