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Mr. Bean's Holiday

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Mr. Bean's Holiday." 

LONDON -- Calling his new film "Mr. Bean's Holiday" sets the bar awfully high for the latest adventures of Rowan Atkinson's bumbling comic creation. It inevitably invites comparison with Jacques Tati's priceless 1953 farce "Mr. Hulot's Holiday." Unlike the French classic, however, the new picture has plenty of chuckles but few outright laughs as Bean wins a raffle ticket for a vacation in the south of France but loses his way and causes minor havoc roaming the countryside.

Atkinson remains an expert clown, and there are sufficient numbers of gags to ensure that Bean fans worldwide will be kept fairly happy. It's difficult to see the film doing blockbuster business, but it inevitably will have a long DVD shelf life.

The screenplay by British TV writer Hamish McColl and Bean regular Robin Driscoll wastes little time in getting the fussy hero with his ever-present digital movie camera onto the Eurostar headed for Paris. Unable to speak the language and not willing to learn, he is equally incapable of even the basic tourist sign language. He can't order food in a restaurant, find the right train or make a phone call.

As a result, there's little by way of satire, and the jokes depend on Bean's stupidity. This involves such things as ingesting langoustine whole and pitching fresh oysters into his napkin that he then tips into a woman's handbag.

At the Gare de Lyon, Bean's determination to record his trip on video involves a genial fellow, Emil (Karel Roden), who happens to be a Russian film director on his way to the Festival de Cannes. Accidentally leaving Emil stuck on the platform, Bean hooks up with the director's resourceful son Stepan (Max Baldry) as the train heads south.

Bean contrives to miss the train himself at another stop but somehow finds Stepan again, little knowing that the boy's father has reported him kidnapped. It doesn't help matters that Bean has lost his wallet, tickets and passport.

Along the way, Bean encounters a group of filmmakers including egomaniac Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe) and a friendly young actress, Sabine (Emma de Caunes). Soon they all find themselves heading for Cannes and a climax at the premiere of Clay's pretentious new film to which Bean makes an unexpected contribution.

Atkinson is given several set pieces in which director Steve Bendelack, a British TV veteran, pretty much lets him get on with it. These include the lengthy restaurant sequence that is squishy enough to please youngsters; an empty-road scene that draws from "North by Northwest" and "Lawrence of Arabia" without turning into anything especially amusing; and a clever bit in which Bean manages to stride straight out from the top of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes to the beach without missing a step.

Cinematographer Baz Irvine and production designer Michael Carlin make sure the film has plenty of color and movement, helped by Howard Goodall's jaunty score.

Baldry and de Caunes are appealing as Bean's foils, though Dafoe appears to think he's in a pantomime and hams up a storm. Atkinson reportedly says this is Bean's last outing. While the film is amusing, it is disappointing that Atkinson appears content to play it safe. It would have been fun to see him aim higher.

MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY
Universal Pictures
StudioCanal presents a Working Title production in association with Tiger Aspect Pictures
Credits:
Director: Steve Bendelack
Screenwriters: Hamish McColl & Robin Driscoll
Story: Simon McBurney
Producers: Peter Bennett-Jones, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Executive producers: Simon McBurney & Richard Curtis
Director of photography: Baz Irvine
Production designer: Michael Carlin
Editor: Tony Cranstoun
Costume designer: Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Composer: Howard Goodall
Cast:
Bean: Rowan Atkinson
Stepan: Max Baldry
Sabine: Emma de Caunes
Carson Clay: Willem Dafoe
Emil: Karel Roden
Maitre d': Jean Rochefort
Running time -- 88 minutes
MPAA rating: PG