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Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean is a marvelous creation, a blissfully-out-of-it museum security guard with a permanent five-o'clock shadow who communicates in little grunts, growls, whistles, moans, chortles, and snorts. Bean is so caught up in his own child-like view of the world that words are largely irrelevant. He walks around in a bemused funk, fingering, ogling, and licking whatever interests him, constantly getting into messes worthy of the great silent comedians--Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, and Langdon. Rarely does he actually mean to do any harm, but he creates havoc wherever he goes.
Now, Mr. Bean makes the transition from British television to the big screen, courtesy of Bean, a frequently hilarious movie that contains some of the funniest scenes you'll see in any movie this year. Many of the comedic set pieces will be familiar to viewers of the sitcom Mr. Bean, such as the scene where Mr. Bean somehow gets a dinner turkey stuck on his head while he's preparing a meal. As a result, the movie sort of resembles a greatest hits collection of Mr. Bean at his best. While the filmmakers rush through some of the best set pieces, such as the aforementioned turkey-on-the-head scene, they also supply some howlingly funny material. In particular, we get an extended bit of comic hilarity that starts with a blast of water from a restroom faucet: not knowing how to make the new-fangled faucet work, Bean suddenly shoves the lever open and the gush of water soaks the crotch of his pants. But he has to go into a meeting immediately afterwards--what can he do? Well, I won't reveal what happens. Much of the pleasure of this movie comes from seeing Bean's bizarre solutions to the problems that he faces. Let's just say it involves a hot-air hand drier.
For the record, the plot of Bean involves one of the world's great works of art, Whistler's Mother. Mr. Bean works at the London National Art Gallery where, in his words, "I sit in the corner and look at the pictures." But now the London National Art Gallery has sold Whistler's Mother to the Grierson Gallery in Los Angeles, and Bean accompanies the painting to California--as an art expert! (Apparently the board of directors of the London Gallery hope the Americans will kill Mr. Bean when they discover he is a fraud.) Suffice it to say that Bean knows nothing about art. But his short, pithy, childishly simple statements are interpreted as great insights, much as Peter Sellers' simple-minded gardener was considered a genius in Being There. Meanwhile, Bean wreaks havoc wherever he goes. An ill-timed sneeze even puts the painting itself in danger.
Rowan Atkinson gets good support from the rest of the cast. Peter MacNicol plays the Grierson Gallery curator who has opened his home to Mr. Bean. Pamela Reed plays MacNicol's wife, who quickly takes the kids and heads for mom's. And Burt Reynolds makes a brief appearance as an army general eager to get "America's greatest work of art" back in America. We also get some good comedy about the museum's efforts at marketing Whistler's Mother: they fill their gift shop with Whistler's Mother's beer mugs, bath towels, and whistles ("You just blow up her ass.") But make no mistake about it: this movie is Mr. Bean's all the way. Several sequences work like classic silent comedy sketches.
However, even at its relatively brief running time of 80 minutes, the movie seems long. Like many sitcoms, Bean works best within the relatively brief confines of 30-minute television episodes--especially when Mr. Bean isn't inconvenienced by the restrictions of a plot. But whatever the case, Bean contains several sublimely silly scenes that must be seen to be believed. And for connoisseurs of movie silliness, Bean is required viewing.
[rating: 3 of 4 stars]