Ten years after his original pic outing, Rowan Atkinson’s obnoxious Brit klutz rides again in the chucklesome, surprisingly warm but rarely laugh-out-loud “Mr Bean’s Holiday.” With its French setting and a title that directly recalls another silent comedy-like creation — Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot — this is a thoroughly Euro bedmate to the 1997 “Bean,” with the Gauls rather than the Yanks as the butt of Bean’s bumblings. English doofus’ worldwide fan club should respond to what Atkinson has stated is the character’s final appearance, with a typically long life on ancillary.
Original grossed some $237 million worldwide, of which $45 million was garnered Stateside. With a similarly episodic structure, in which some bits work better than others, there seems to be no apparent reason why Bean’s timeless appeal shouldn’t reap equivalent returns. However, pic’s film-buffy slant, with a finale at the Cannes Film Festival, won’t mean much to the ankle-biting segment of Bean’s audience.
After its March 22 preem in Singapore, the film goes wide throughout Europe on March 30. Stateside release is skedded for Sept. 28.
Opening reel, set in a rainy London in June, has Bean (Atkinson) winning a free holiday in the South of France during a church raffle. Film clicks into gear as Bean screws up his rail connection in Paris and, armed with a compass, causes chaos as he walks in a straight line across the city from La Defense to Gare de Lyon to catch the Riviera express. (Buster Keaton-like joke is replayed briefly, and even more cleverly, at the end of the movie as Bean makes his way to the beach.)
After killing time in the station restaurant — cue typically Brit humor about French food, presided over by a superior maitre d’ (vet Jean Rochefort) — Bean has an encounter with Russian movie director Emil Duchevsky (Czech thesp Karel Roden), who’s on his way with his young son, Stepan (newcomer Max Baldry), to sit on the Cannes jury.
Thanks to Bean, Emil gets left behind on the platform as the train pulls out of the station, taking Bean and Stepan with it. After losing his passport, ticket and money, Bean and the streetwise 10-year-old become unlikely traveling companions as they head south to Cannes — Stepan to his father and Bean to his beloved beach.
Early on, the script (by comedy writer Hamish McColl and “Bean” regular Robin Driscoll) sets up a few threads that help bind the episodic material together. As part of his prize, Bean has won a vidcam, whose footage is interwoven heavily during the early reels and becomes a key plot element in the finale. Also, Bean and Stepan try various cell phone numbers to reach Emil, producing several funny vignettes scattered throughout the movie.
Once en route, the pic spends some time bonding the two characters, most successfully when they busk for money in a rural marketplace. Sequence foreshadows the movie’s most inspired idea — a heartwarming wrap-up with a rendering of the Charles Trenet classic “La Mer.”
It’s during the second half that the humor becomes more hit-and-miss, as Bean is separated from Stepan and becomes involved first in a WWII yogurt commercial that’s being shot in rural France, then with its director, American art-film helmer Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe), whose latest snoozeroo, “Playback Time,” is competing at Cannes. Festgoers will get a buzz out of scenes actually shot on the 2006 red carpet, but as a finale, it’s all a bit too insiderish to deliver on a general level.
Onscreen the whole time, and with virtually no dialogue beyond “oui,” “non” and, uh, “gracias,” Atkinson is the whole movie, in a role that’s essentially beyond critique. Even when an extended gag is not especially funny, thesp always has a big enough bag of physical mannerisms to fill in the dull patches.
Aside from Baldry, whose neat chemistry with Atkinson gives the pic some emotional underpinning, other thesps are basically decorative. Dafoe is well cast as the Amerindie “auteur”; French thesp Emma de Caunes (whose dad, Antoine, pops up briefly as a TV reporter) is OK as a wannabe actress who hooks up with Bean and Stepan.
Helming by British TV director Steve Bendelack, whose pic debut was another small-to-bigscreen outing, “The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse” (2005), is much slicker than Mel Smith’s on 1997’s “Bean.” Though supportive of Atkinson’s comic rhythms, Bendelack also brings a voice of his own to the visuals, notably in a roadside parody of Omar Sharif’s entry in “Lawrence of Arabia.” (Surprisingly, though, Clay’s film-within-a-film could have been funnier.)
Feel-good score by Howard Goodall is a valuable assist throughout.