Though Rowan Atkinson has amassed a ton of genius comedic creations in his 52 years, none of his other characters, Raymond Fowler and Edmund Blackadder included, quite stand up against the inexplicable Mr. Bean. Virtually a mute, the fact that Bean's humor derives solely from reactions and body movements certainly gives the character a unique flair but what of the relation of Bean to the world? A popular theory casts Bean as an alien wandering around our planet, trying to exist in some state of normalcy, though the word "conspicuous" might as well be tattooed on the man's chin.
The genius of a character like Bean is that he is never completely explained to us in any specific way. Throughout his stand-up, a sadly short-lived BBC series, and Bean (his 1997 movie romp), Atkinson and the writers have never given a shred of evidence to justify or correlate Bean's persona. You could call him a blank slate based on his aloof, ruinous behavior, but that definition disregards his absurd volatility. If Bean was badly cut, you'd half-expect his blood to spurt out and form a mini-Bean that tap-danced to elevator music. It is unsurprising that a character of this untoward bewilderment would find a happy home in France, the home of Jerry Lewis's most devoted fandom.
In Mr. Bean's Holiday, Bean gets sent off to France after nabbing the top prize at a church raffle. With camcorder in hand, he bumbles his way from London to France where he waits for a train to the French Riviera where the Cannes Film Festival is taking place. After dining on French cuisine (oysters and langoustines are not his forte), Bean accidentally (the word is carved into his family tree) causes a Russian father to miss the train which his son (Max Baldry) is already on. As it turns out, the Russian man is a judge for Cannes who puts out a police report on Bean. As expected, Bean and the boy loose all their money and must find more creative ways to make it to the French Riviera, only finding refuge with a bouncy French actress named Sabine (Emma de Caunes).
Director Steve Bendelack, who cut his teeth directing episodes of the BBC sketch show The League of Gentlemen, gives this light but rambunctiously amusing film a hearty kick of satire from the film festival side of things. Willem Dafoe has a ball playing Carson Clay, a horrifying and hilarious filmmaking hybrid of Vincent Gallo and Olivier Assayas, who directed a film at Cannes in which Sabine is featured. The opening track to Clay's film, titled Playback Time, features a close-up of the director/actor/producer/writer on an escalator as his name appears in innumerable incarnations.
Unlike the first film, the tiresome family drama is largely done away with in lieu of a healthier dose of Bean's antics, including a priceless interpretation of Puccini & Forzano's "O Mio Babino Caro." Though perhaps alien to American audiences, Atkinson's creation could be considered a low-concept equivalent of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, though much more interested in his own existence than social apathy. As the film points out, perhaps the roaming peculiarities of a simpleton are more credible than a handful of art-house ego-fests.
Wait'll he jams his head inside one.