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MOVIE REVIEW

'Holiday' nuttiness wears thin

August 24, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

To look at Rowan Atkinson's face in action is to be at once repelled and enthralled. It's such an obscenely malleable mug that the viewer is left to ponder the humanity of it all. Has he no facial bones? What kind of musculature is required for such contortions? Does it hurt to do that?

Of all the British comedian's memorable roles in television and movies -- including Edmund Blackadder in the "Blackadder" series and Father Gerald in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" -- it is the sub-verbal, mush-mouthed creation Mr. Bean who perhaps makes best use of Atkinson's squishy-faced skills. A virtually silent clown, the impish character first appeared on British television nearly 20 years ago and then leapt to the big screen in 1997 with the release of a feature film called, simply, "Bean."

The film was a surprise hit internationally, no doubt because of its reliance on physical humor over verbal jousting for laughs. Donning his nom de legume for the first time in a decade, Atkinson now stars in "Mr. Bean's Holiday," an outing that would appear to milk the last laughs from this particular comic cow.

Atkinson and his collaborators, director Steve Bendelack and writers Simon McBurney (story), Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll (screenplay), have situated the hapless Bean in an amiable vehicle, but one that is stretched exceedingly thin. Although the star's talents extend beyond his facial dexterity to include a seemingly elastic torso and limbs that splay at more angles than a Swiss Army knife, they're not enough to sustain a skit-based narrative that finds Bean winning a trip to the French Riviera and a camcorder in a church lottery.

The polymorphous man-child is soon wending his way to Cannes and its famous film festival armed with a wobbly command of the French language that extends only to oui, non and gracias. A succession of misadventures quickly separates him from the train, his ticket and his passport, leaving him to rely primarily on his wits, which is akin to navigating by the North Star on a cloudy night.

"Mr. Bean" springs forth from the innocent-abroad family of road movies but in title, plot and at least one extended gag pays homage to the films of Jacques Tati. Much of the film's humor relies on the audience's knowledge that Bean is what the French call un imbecile, while the people he encounters frequently mistake him for a savant (or at least someone of average intelligence). That works to a degree, but many of the sequences are labored and feel drawn out to justify a feature-length running time. There's maybe 20 minutes' worth of smiles here and only a couple of big laughs.

As with the first Bean movie, Atkinson is surrounded by able performers doing their best to play it straight in the midst of anarchy. Newcomer Max Baldry appears as a boy who becomes Bean's reluctant traveling companion; Jean Rochefort is a stern maƮtre d', and Willem Dafoe is a pretentious American film director. French actress Emma de Caunes is delightful as an aspiring thespian who crosses paths with Bean, even though she is given little more to do than look bemused by his antics.There is a guilty-pleasure quality to watching Atkinson at work even when Mr. Bean has overstayed his welcome. The film's lightness makes you wish you were the one headed to the beach.

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

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"Mr. Bean's Holiday." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. In general release.

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