Genre: Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.
Release Date: November 7th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Mel Smith Actors: Rowan Atkinson, Peter MacNicol, Pamela Reed, Burt Reynolds, Harris Yulin, Larry Drake, Andrew Lawrence, Peter Capaldi, June Brown
he film opens with Mr. Bean’s (Rowan Atkinson) instantly recognizable, very odd face, accompanied by his wordless grunts and awkward, guttural sounds. He goes about his regular routine, involving shaving his tongue and pouring the ingredients of a cup of coffee, separately, directly into his mouth. He’s perfectly contrasted by elderly, refined, and learned art historians and businessmen, who gather in a meeting at the Paris Royal National Gallery.
The reputable men are there to simultaneously fire the worst employee in the organization’s history (Mr. Bean, of course), as well as to discuss the Grierson Art Gallery’s acquisition of the greatest painting ever done by an American: Whistler’s portrait of his mother (an iconic rendering officially known as “Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother”). The masterpiece is to be delivered from Europe to the States, with the utmost care. The President of the Paris gallery refuses to part with Bean, despite his unquestionable incompetence and accident-prone nature, and further reveals that Bean will be the attaché and honorary guest speaker for the painting’s unveiling.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Grierson Gallery plans for the arrival of the $50 million Whistler’s Mother and the reception of the esteemed Dr. Bean. David Langley (Peter MacNicol), the curator in charge of accommodating the art scholar, accidentally invites Bean to stay at his home, with unimpressed wife Alison (Pamela Reed) and their two children. Immediately recognizing the European man’s abundant weirdness, David’s family leaves, forcing him to deal with Bean alone for the weekend before the big event.
Blowing his nose, sneezing, wetting his pants, abusing laxatives, and spilling vomit are not above Mr. Bean’s antics, clearly capitalizing on the ease with which some audiences laugh at immature jokes. Repetition is also key, using visual gags that repeat themselves to the point of nonsensical hilarity. In addition, there’s a “wrong man” theme ever-present, with the American employees under the impression that Dr. Bean is a genius of the very highest order (perhaps just a tad eccentric). “Well he looks like a fruitcake to me,” states the police captain that continually arrests Bean for his unlawful shenanigans – much like Clouseau’s run-ins with the law in “A Shot in the Dark.”
And then there are the sequences of slapstick and pantomime, which were the staples of Atkinson’s British TV show, used here in a similarly entertaining manner. He cavorts about like a zombie, curiously poking his tongue about in his mouth, waving his arms wildly, and working to quickly and unintentionally destroy David’s life and career. The goal is to put the characters in as many unnervingly awkward situations as possible, provoking the audience to squirm until the predicaments are just as bizarrely resolved.
As with most lighthearted, unrealistic comedies, things seem to get absurdly out of hand, only to be repaired with a few silly, technically complex, good deeds. Unfortunately, toward the end, the film starts to lose focus on the story, resorting to seemingly unrelated skits to fill the runtime. Some of it is funny, but most of it is utterly ridiculous.
Atkinson isn’t afraid to use a few of his best skits from the original show in this theatrical venture, but he adds enough new elements to be thoroughly fresh; it’s no masterwork, but several moments are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The highlight is the team of highly trained security members examining every possible method of theft, while Bean haphazardly negates their planning with a few disastrous mishaps. While the plot itself isn’t terribly satisfying, Atkinson is appropriately faithful to the character he created, marking the film as a decent, must-see follow-up to the series.
– Mike Massie