Culture > Movies

Film: Viewers get Beaned

Movies | British humor works on PBS, but not on the big screen

Issue: "Global Warming," Nov. 29, 1997

After topping box office charts from Britain to Brazil, Bean finally washed ashore in America. Rowan Atkinson's TV character is already a cult smash, and one would expect this to be the funniest thing since Duck Soup. Sadly, it isn't. What works as an English sitcom is stretched to the limit to fit feature length, until it finally snaps. Mr. Bean is a childlike man who doesn't say much and keeps wandering into trouble. Naturally, when this postmodern clown tries to fix things, they just get worse. Such is the standard comedy formula. The key to Mr. Bean's success is Mr. Atkinson's virtuosic comedy timing. He's a master at finding the right body language and facial expression. On video, he's a hoot. On the silver screen, he seems as much an unwanted houseguest with the audience as with the characters in the movie. The plot involves Mr. Bean as a bumbling London museum guard. Everybody there hates him, but they can't fire him. So when Whistler's Mother is sold to a Los Angeles gallery, they try to pass off the bumbler as an art expert and ship him to California with the painting. Meanwhile, Mr. Bean wanders around like a psychotic Elmo doll. Except he isn't cute. On the big screen he looks like a bug-eyed monster. Mr. Atkinson's contorted character is stretched too thin, and an hour and a half of movie drags on forever. A hapless curator (played by a Billy Crystal clone named Peter MacNicol) is stuck babysitting him as he causes trouble from the airport to the exhibit hall. If disaster strikes, the curator's career is over. After Mr. Bean comes to stay in his house, his wife packs up the kids and escapes to grandma's. The remainder is a rehash of stock comedy clichés, with enough bathroom humor to ruin this as a kid's film. Bean also tries and fails at satirizing American society. Burt Reynolds plays an idiotic general who pays $50 million for Whistler's masterpiece because he "can't stand the idea of Frenchies owning America's greatest painting." Bean was obviously set in Los Angeles in an attempt to sell the character to a U.S. audience. The movie's Euro-stereotype of Americans is self-defeating. One of the few scenes that scores is Mr. Bean's playing McGuyver and sneaking into the museum late at night. It breaks from the flow of the movie and lets us see our hero succeed at something. Bean is an imported parallel to the Saturday Night Live movie spinoffs. These films often fail because a character that hits a home run in TV sketch comedy gets old quickly in long form. Following the British taste for limited runs, the original series only had 13 episodes. Obviously, less is more. By the end of the movie, Mr. Bean's antics are tired and annoying. The film is a global smash hit, but then again, the French think Jerry Lewis is funny.

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