Though most Americans don't realize it, the first Mr. Bean movie was one of the most successful comedies in history—mostly because its wordless slapstick made it suitable for release in countries as far-flung as Argentina, Iceland and Estonia. There’s no need for complicated linguistic translation when someone is sticking their head up a frozen turkey’s butt.
Ten years later, we get a belated collection of vignettes in which the hapless Mr. Bean travels to France, learns to bicycle, fights with seafood and helps reunite a young tike with his father. It’s not exactly appointment viewing, but it’s cute, harmless and amusing enough if your comedy standards aren’t that demanding.
This time around, the buffoonish Mr. Bean (Atkinson) has won a church raffle. The grand prize is an all-expense-paid trip to the Côte d’Azure, in the sunny south of France. Bean packs up his suitcase and his videocamera and climbs aboard a train. Here, of course, is where the trouble begins. In imposing upon a stranger to film his departure, Bean unwittingly prevents a Russian man from boarding the train. Unfortunately, this leaves the Russian’s young son (Max Baldry, last seen trying to take over the empire as Caesar’s bastard offspring in “Rome”) stuck on the train with no escort.
Feeling somehow responsible (actually, he’s totally responsible), Bean takes it upon himself to help locate the kid’s father. This leads to all sorts of wacky errors in which Bean loses his suitcase, his passport, his wallet and his way. Despite the adversity, Bean and his young sidekick struggle to make their way to Cannes, where (as it happens) the kid’s father is a juror at the famed Cannes Film Festival. Along the way, Bean picks up a friendly French actress (the majorly cute Emma de Caunes from The Science of Sleep) and runs afoul of a self-indulgent American director (Willem Dafoe, having a hammy good time spoofing pretentious indie filmmakers).
The plot particulars are irrelevant, really. It all boils down to a string of largely silent skits, one or two culled from Atkinson’s 18-episode “Mr. Bean” TV series (1990-95). There are inspired moments (Atkinson pantomiming a Puccini aria, the well-timed arrival of a tank and an acrobatic walk across a crowded French street); but Atkinson is no Harold Lloyd. He’s no Jacques Tati, either. This film’s title is a clear reference to Tati’s unassailable 1953 silent film Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, and that’s a comparison Mr. Bean definitely comes out on the losing end of.
Still, it’s hard not to root for the hapless Mr. Bean and his simpleminded quest to wiggle his toes in the beach sand of his dreams. He’s a good-natured goof, and his films just want to get a giggle out of you. There’s no big message, no grand scheme to it all—just a nudge, a wink and a pratfall or two.
Make no mistake: Mr. Bean’s Holiday is pure unadulterated silliness. Despite inspiring some sporadic chuckles this time around, none of Bean’s familiar bumbling matches the innovative physical comedy of the long-gone TV series.
But at least Holiday is a step up from Bean’s 1997 outing, which felt uncomfortably out of place set in modern-day Los Angeles. Stateside, Bean comes across too much like a mentally handicapped pedophile. Placed in Europe, teamed with a couple of supporting characters (both of whom speak different languages than our hero), and set to the tune of an old Charles Trenet ditty, Bean’s quaint style of slapstick feels somehow appropriate.