Directed by Mel Smith. Starring Rowan Atkinson, Peter Macnicol, Andrew Leary, Pamela Reed, Harris Yulan, Burt Reynolds. (1997, PG-13, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 7, 1997
Mr. Bean, perhaps the most annoying British import yet, has arrived amidst much hullabaloo, though one hopes that Beanmania will be relegated rather quickly to passing fad status. As created by rubber-faced comic Atkinson (also of the British comedy shows The Black Adder and The Thin Blue Line), Mr. Bean is a bumbling child-man, forever placing himself and those around him in endless, hilarious jeopardy, and then somehow managing to survive until the next time. Atkinson, who looks a bit like a congested ferret, was restructuring his highly elastic facial muscles long before Jim Carrey came along and will more than likely be doing so well past Ace Ventura's final outing. Still, Mr. Bean is an acquired taste. There's something almost sinister in his indistinct baritone mumblings, and his eyes always appear to be straining to pop clear out of his head, like some postmortem Marty Feldman. This first big-screen Bean adventure (there's already talk of a sequel), however, takes the character out of his native Britain and places him squarely in the heart of Los Angeles, which may have seemed like a terrific idea at the time, but ends up forcing the filmmakers to ratchet up the Bean weirdness quotient far too high to compensate for L.A.'s standard level of the bizarre. It's too much, and the less-than-clever script -- essentially no more than a series of Bean television sketches strung together -- doesn't help matters any. The plot casts Mr. Bean as a hapless security guard who spends his time looking at paintings at the London National Art Gallery. His superiors, however, hate the fumbling goon so much that they send him to America to oversee the transfer of Whistler's Mother (yes, that Whistler's Mother) to the Grierson Gallery in Los Angeles, in the hopes of getting rid of the fellow permanently. The Grierson's curator, David Langley (MacNicol), assumes that Mr. Bean is an eccentric British genius, and invites him into his home and life. Naturally, both are reduced to shambles in record time, while Whistler's masterpiece is manhandled and eventually destroyed. Along the way, Bean somehow provides a series of life lessons for the overworked and underappreciated curator, and all's well that ends well, or something equally British like that. Atkinson's a pro at the character -- he mastered his Beanisms long ago, and all anyone else has to do is play straight man (or woman). It works, up to a point, but it's difficult not to grow restless after more than 30 minutes of Mr. Bean at a sitting. There are only so many pratfalls you can string together sans storyline and keep a ball like this rolling, and unfortunately, too many of Bean's schticks were old news by the time they first aired on PBS.