BEAN (1997) *
American audiences were introduced to Atkinson's mad, sardonic "Blackadder" series (made for the BBC) some years ago. The combination of very verbal, acerbic, irreverent and insulting humor, with zany, mock history, physical farce, was and is unique. Then, doing a 180 degree turn, the amazing Atkinson became the weird,bumbling (that's an understatement) "Mr. Bean." The only way to explain him is that, as he seems to get beamed down to earth, he is really both human and extra-terrestrial. His monumental, farcical ineptness is expressed in almost entirely speechless sketches, with superbly funny mumblings, sounds and noises.
Both "Blackadder" and "Mr. Bean" were written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, who had They had collaborated before. Curtis was also the scriptwriter of the feature "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in which Atkinson has the small, hilarious part as the bumbling clergyman officiating at a marriage. He also wrote the successful feature "The Tall Guy," starring Jeff Goldblum (and Atkinson in the supporting cast), directed by comic actor-writer Mel Smith. So there is a lot of talent in the movie "Bean." But the picture also confirms that transforming wildly comic and original TV episodes into features is a bad idea, at least for those who follow the television items religiously. It has seldom worked, except for Monty Python.
In "Bean" Atkinson is a security guard, "the worst employee in the Royal National Gallery's history." About to be fired, he is rescued (for arbitrary reasons) by the Chairman of the Board. Simultaneously, the Gallery has been requested to send to Los Angeles a renowned British scholar to speak at the inauguration of the "best American painting," "Whistler's Mother," just purchased from the French Musee d'Orsay. The Brits decide (illogically) to dispatch Bean, then give him a sabbatical, so as to get rid of him temporarily.
From the moment Bean steps onto his plane to the film's finale, Atkinson grunts and mugs and clowns and grimaces and contorts from top to bottom. The Atkinson TV aficionados find that the overwhelming majority of shenanigans are bad, broad and forced. The gags include airplane vomit bags, urine, laxatives, spit, sneezing stuff, a turkey's rear end, a 2 way-mirror, drunks, more bathroom things, body parts and the like. The last section's hospital gags -- a delicate genre to start with--are weak. At the end, Bean's mistaking the giving the finger for a friendly salute, uses it copiously. Not very funny. Nor is the blindness of the museum people who do not notice Bean's madness and imposture.
For those who appreciate the punch and vigor of TV's episodes, "Bean" feels tedious,overlong and synthetic. I counted few good gags, such as Bean pretending that the painting he is moving is a table on wheels. Or when Bean -- here exceptionally given a few spoken lines --improvises a short speech about "Whistler's Mother." Or when he tells Burt Reynolds,the haughty, millionaire, retired general who purchased the painting: "Delighted to meet you, Sir." and the General replies "Of course you are."
I saw this film with a smallish audience of more young children than adults. The kids whooped it up regularly; the adults rarely. I am told that at a large Saturday night show many grownups were in stitches.I might have been too, if exposed to the novelty and originality of Bean for the first time. Do catch "Mr. Bean" and "Blackadder" on PBS or on video.You'll understand why the movie lets down the Atkinsonphiles.