Mr. Bean charms along the French Riviera

Mr. Bean's Holiday

on August 24, 2007 by Wade Major
Since his 1989 debut on British television, Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean has become a virtual cottage industry, quite possibly the most successful cross-cultural comedy phenomenon since Charles Chaplin's Little Tramp became a silent-era icon. A subsequent 1997 hit film and 2002 animated series, however, left many wondering whether the notoriously finicky and obsessively private Atkinson had any Bean left in him. Fortunately for all, such skepticism wasn't simply premature, it was wrong, for Mr. Bean's Holiday —which has already grossed nearly $200 million internationally—is a quantum leap forward for the character, adding a layer of warmth and heart that seems certain to endear him to an entirely new generation of fans.

The story once again finds Mr. Bean exiting his native England, only this time it's not America but France that beckons when Bean wins a vacation to the famed Riviera resort city of Cannes, home to the world's most famous film festival. Naturally, things don't go as planned, as Bean's innate ineptitude and chronic bad luck generate a string of mishaps that turn the normally uneventful southward journey from London to the Mediterranean into a cavalcade of hilarious screw-ups.

Mr. Bean, of course, never works in a vacuum—unless it's the kind of vacuum that sucks unsuspecting bystanders into the mayhem. In this instance, no fewer than four people wind up trapped in Bean's orbit, including a young Russian boy (Max Baldry), two film directors (Karel Roden and Willem Dafoe) and an aspiring young French ingénue (Emma de Caunes). Thanks to a lovely, picturesque tour of France and the softening presence of travel companions like the boy and the actress, Bean's unique brand of G-rated mayhem ends up tempered by some genuinely moving interludes.

It's a delicate balancing act, to be sure, but veteran British television director Steve Bendelack, working from a script by Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll from a story by Simon McBurney, keeps things sufficiently brisk and airy to enthrall both children and adults.

The character that Atkinson originally created with Richard “ Four Weddings and a Funeral ” Curtis has long been compared to an array of similar comics and screen characters—including Jerry Lewis and Pee Wee Herman, as well as Chaplin's aforementioned Little Tramp—but it's French filmmaker/actor Jacques Tati's beloved Monsieur Hulot that the filmmakers here acknowledge as his primary inspiration, and not just with the film's title and French setting, a rather overt nod to Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday . Many of the film's meticulously orchestrated sight gags are culled directly from Tati material, acknowledging the supreme debt that the mostly silent Bean owes to his beloved French counterpart. It's a fitting tribute for one of the year's most enjoyable surprises.
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Willem Dafoe, Karel Roden, Max Baldry, Emma de Caunes and Jean Rochefort
Director: Steve Bendelack
Screenwriters: Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll
Producers: Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner
Genre: Comedy
Rating: G
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: August 24, 2007
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