Rowan Atkinson's witless, painfully unfunny attempt to re-create the gentle, near-silent slapstick of Jacques Tati's M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953) is an excruciating series of gags aimed at kids old enough to think it's funny when a grown-up acts like a small child, but too young to know that men who pull creepy faces in an attempt to curry favor with youngsters are to be avoided.
Mr. Bean (Atkinson) wins a camcorder and a trip to Cannes at a church raffle, and heaven help those whose paths he crosses. Bean orders the fruits de la mer on ice at a snooty cafe and gamely eats langoustines shell and all, while dumping those icky slimy oysters into an unsuspecting French lady's purse! He also spills cafe au lait onto a sleeping businessman's laptop and dragoons a bystander into taping his carefully staged "casual" embarkation, only to make the poor fellow miss the train himself with his 11-year-old son, Stepan (Max Baldry), already aboard! It's a wonder that Bean's creepy efforts to cheer up the understandably distraught child draw no more than disapproving stares from the other passengers. Bean eventually loses his passport, ticket, wallet and luggage in various contrived mishaps, so he and Stepan who speaks neither English nor French, while Bean's foreign-language proficiency extends no further than oui, non and gracias team up to make their way to Cannes by whatever improvised means possible. Not surprisingly, Stepan's father (Karl Roden), who turns out to be a Russian film director who's on the Cannes jury, comes to believe Bean has abducted Stepan and contacts the police. Stepan and Bean are separated and meet up on the road again after Bean is befriended by French actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes), who's driving to Cannes for the premiere of pompous auteur Carson Clay's (Willem Dafoe) "Playback Time" (what a clever pun on "payback" and Tati's PLAYTIME!), in which she has a supporting part. The silliness comes to a head in a welter of lazy digs at pretentious filmmakers, easily duped cineastes and officious festival personnel.
Screenwriters Robin Driscoll, a longtime Atkinson collaborator, and Hamish McColl are to blame for the film's ham-fisted script (from a story by, of all people, actor Simon McBurney), whose successful sight gag Bean on a rattletrap bike sailing past a flock of professional cyclists was lifted from Tati's 1949 JOUR DE FETE. But the real culprit is Atkinson's grotesque mugging and lazy pratfalls, combined with the misguided decision to tweak the voice tracks so that most of Bean's sparse utterances come out as guttural, near-incomprehensible grunts. The effect is almost as terrifying as Atkinson in old-lady drag. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh