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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Rowan Atkinson was blessed with a marvelously expressive face, capable of making any emotion it registers seem potent beyond all reason. When the British comedian plays worried, you can practically feel the dread looming in his soul. When he plays silly, you canít help but laugh at the utter ridiculousness of his facial expressions. (Only Jim Carrey rivals Atkinson in rubbery-ness.) And embarrassment? Well, you often want to roll up in a corner and die right along with him, so powerful is the sense of humiliation he conveys. These three feelings have served the actor well in his popular Mr. Bean character, whose life is nothing but worry, silliness, and embarrassment. After a ten-year absence from the big screen, Atkinson brings his famous creation back in Mr. Beanís Holiday, which has already been a worldwide smash and now hits American theaters.

The opening scene finds hapless Mr. Bean winning an all-expenses paid trip to the French Riviera. Along the way, he accidentally causes a young boy to be separated from his father (The Bourne Supremacyís Karel Roden), who is scheduled to be the head juror of the Cannes Film Festival. Bean takes the boy along with him, hoping to fix the situation, but their journey is not simple. They get kicked off trains, miss busses, and have to elude police, who believe Bean is responsible for kidnapping the lad. As Bean endures one mishap after another, he encounters a series of new acquaintances, including an egotistical American film director (Willem Dafoe) and an aspiring starlet (Emma de Caunes).

The story is not what draws you in. Like the eponymous HBO series and previous movie (1997ís Bean), Mr. Beanís Holiday is primarily concerned with putting the character into uncomfortable situations and letting him go nuts. The funniest moment in the film finds Bean sampling seafood in a fancy French restaurant. Unexpectedly disgusted by one of the oysters he has tried, Bean attempts to dispose of the rest of them while still convincing the waiter that heís appreciating the delicacy. Atkinson is hysterical as he alternates between sheer horror, panic, and a phony sense of sophistication, which he puts on for the benefit of others. Another highlight is a sequence in which the character, bereft of money, improvises a street dance in various styles, hoping passersby will toss him some change.

Atkinson is not the only one who gets laughs. Dafoe as terrific as the pretentious auteur who prizes his own ďgeniusĒ more than anyone else. We see clips of his big Cannes Film Festival entry that are amusingly pompous.

What Iíve always liked about the Mr. Bean character is that he represents a style of comedy rarely seen anymore. Itís physical comedy, but not necessarily slapstick. As Bean, Atkinson is mostly silent, only occasionally making remarks in a strange guttural voice. He lets his physicality rule. All the humor is conveyed through facial expressions and body movements. In many ways, the Bean movies/shows are similar to classic silent cinema, where movement prevailed over dialogue. Not many people can do this kind of thing well. Rowan Atkinson does it about as well as anyone ever has, and heís hilarious to watch. Amazingly, he seems to keep finding new ways to play mortification and silliness, so the character doesnít really wear out his welcome.

Mr. Beanís Holiday does suffer the same problem that the previous Bean movie suffered from: once it starts tying up all the plot threads at the end, the laugh ratio decreases. The first hour of the movie is really funny, but the last 20 minutes get a little bogged down in trying to resolve the situations with the boy and his father, with the egotistical director, and with the starlet. There are still some laughs; they just arenít as big or as often. Also, I wish the picture had done more with the finale, set at a Cannes Film Festival premiere. I was expecting some celebrity cameos, or perhaps for Bean to deflate the notorious sense of glitz and glamour that surrounds the fest.

Even considering those missed opportunities, I liked Mr. Beanís Holiday. Itís good natured and unassuming. The movie exists solely to make you laugh. Rowan Atkinson is one of those people who can inspire laugher with a twitch of his eyebrow or a stumble of his feet. He is this movie, and he gives us a good time.

( out of four)

Mr. Bean's Holiday is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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