Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mel Smith
Stars: Rowan Atkinson, Peter MacNicol, Pamela Reed, Harris Yulin, Burt Reynolds, John Mills, Richard Gant, Tricia Vessey, Andrew Lawrence, Tom McGowan, Sandra Oh
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Rowan Atkinson brings his famous creation, the hapless, disastrously accident prone Mr Bean, to the big screen in this hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable film. Bean seems deliberately designed to broaden his appeal, especially to American audiences who are largely unfamiliar with the antics of this destructive child in a man’s body. Bean is a comic character who embodies many of the classic traits of those silent comedians such as Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and the ilk, although his mischievous brand of humour contains a more malicious edge.
The film begins when a wealthy American general (Burt Reynolds) donates $50 million to a private LA art gallery, enabling it to purchase America’s greatest painting, Whistler’s Mother, from the French. Gallery owner George Grierson (Harris Yulin) asks the British National Art Gallery to send over an art expert who will add some gravity to the unveiling ceremony. In an act of pure pique, the British send Bean, their most detested employee, ridding themselves of him and also deliberately taking their trans-Atlantic colleagues down a peg or two into the bargain. Bean is billeted at the home of the gallery curator David Langley (Peter MacNicol, from Dracula: Dead And Loving It, etc), and is promptly responsible for wrecking his home and destroying his marriage. Bean also runs afoul of the law, who somewhat naively mistake his strange, childlike behaviour and lunatic antics as the kind of behaviour expected from brilliant but eccentric British academics.
Letting Bean within sneezing distance of the painting is a recipe for disaster, and he quickly fulfills audiences’ worst expectations by destroying the painting. Bean deliberately aims for a splendid mix of low brow and physical humour. Although many of Bean’s comical routines will undoubtedly be familiar, which should be more than enough to satisfy fans of the popular and consistently high rating tv series, creators and co-writers Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Black Adder, etc) have devised some new but equally as chaotic and hilarious set pieces. This film also enables Atkinson to expand the character somewhat, giving him more depth than normally seen in his tv appearances, by actually forcing him to confront the personal and human consequences of his inept blundering. Bean actually provides the normally unrepentant character an opportunity to repair much of the damage caused by his unthinking blundering. Audiences are also treated to the rare experience of hearing the normally silent and notoriously shy Bean speak, a device that does slightly undermine the mystique of the character. But that is only a minor quibble with this hilarious film, which is directed at a brisk pace by tv comic turned director Mel Smith (whose previous efforts behind the camera include The Tall Guy). Smith ensures that this big screen incarnation of Mr Bean doesn’t outstay his welcome or lose his unique appeal during the brief but enormously satisfying 98 minutes.
Atkinson is undoubtedly the star of the film, and Bean gives him ample opportunity to display those talents for physical comedy and manic contortions that have endeared the character to fans. MacNicol essentially plays his role as the hapless Langley straight, providing a perfect foil and balance for Atkinson’s manic antics, while Pamela Reed (Kindergarten Cop, etc) contributes some nice hysteria as Langley’s wife who, understandably, takes an instant dislike to Bean. The inclusion of several serious veteran performers such as Yulin and Reynolds in smaller roles lends some weight to the material.