The idea of Mr. Bean — the simpering, near-silent king of the British twits — always seems a bit funnier than the reality.
That’s especially true with “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” the character’s second big-screen adventure, with Rowan Atkinson exuberantly goofing his way through sight gags that are cute and clever but not terribly amusing.
Here and there, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” elicits some real laughs, particularly toward the end, as the mayhem the character causes reaches epic heights. Mostly, though, the movie is a just pleasant-enough trifle, a collection of amiable sketches strung together along Bean’s pratfall-filled road trip from rainy London to the sunny beaches of the French Riviera.
Seventeen years after Bean debuted on British television, lanky, rubbery Atkinson still inhabits him with such imbecilic effervescence that it’s not hard to get caught up in his misadventures even when they’re not very interesting.
Atkinson has cited French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot as an inspiration for Bean, and the new movie plays like a lowbrow homage to that character’s first appearance in “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.”
After a brief prologue in which Bean wins a raffle whose grand prize is a trip to Cannes and a digital video camera, our lovable cretin is off to France, recording his journey every step of the way. Bean’s video travelogue is woven throughout the story line and becomes a key device during the movie’s finale at the Cannes Film Festival.
Continually sidetracked by his own fathomless stupidity, Bean causes perpetual agony for himself and almost everyone he encounters, among them self-adoring filmmaker Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe), who is on his way to Cannes for the premiere of his pretentious new film.
Boarding a train in Paris, Bean manages to separate a Russian filmmaker (Karel Roden) from his young son Stepan (Max Baldry). Bean and Stepan wind up as traveling companions as our hero tries to reunite the boy with his father, eventually hooking up with an aspiring actress (Emma de Caunes) who’s on her way to Cannes, as well.
French star Jean Rochefort pops up in a strangely insubstantial bit part as a waiter who serves up a seafood platter, prompting a stomach-churning scene in which Bean tries to make his way through a slimy lunch of oysters and prawns.
Director Steve Bendelack and screenwriters Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll never quite hit on anything inspired, though they pile on enough absurd stunts and buffoonery to keep “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” from ever becoming tedious. Some gags run on too long, and only a handful elicit visceral laughter, though.
Baldry and de Caunes are suitably sweet in roles that call for little else, while Dafoe serves his purpose well in essentially a one-note part as an egomaniac.
The entire movie hangs on Atkinson, with the other characters there mainly for Bean to crash into. Really just a large, helpless boy in tweed, Bean utters only a few syllables — the occasional “oui,” “gracias” or “Cannes” — as he moves through the world with reckless single-mindedness.
It’s a testament to Atkinson’s gift for physical comedy and cartoonish expression that audiences can stick with an almost wordless simpleton for the space of a full movie. While “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” is hardly a memorable vacation, Atkinson proves an agreeably silly tour guide.