The selfish yet ingenuous, antic yet nearly wordless exertions of Mr. Bean — the singular slapstick creation of British comedian Rowan Atkinson — is an acquired taste that, by now, has been acquired by a large portion of the planet: Bean (Gramercy), the feature debut of the character already thriving on television (HBO, Comedy Central, and public TV Stateside) and video, made more than $120 million even before it found its way across the great herring pond. (Atkinsonians know that their man — the malaprop-prone priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral — is also the cocreator and star of the BBC cult hit The Black Adder.)
Now Bean has come ashore. He’s saucer-eyed and rubbery, with a wardrobe inspired by Charlie Chaplin and Pee-wee Herman and a talent for exquisitely broad physical comedy shared with Jim Carrey and John Cleese. But what you make of Bean may depend on whether you know beans about Bean going in.
Lord knows Bean is strenuously wacky: In this setup, Mr. B is a hapless London museum security guard dispatched undercover (in a complicated act of sabotage) to an art gallery in easy-to-mock Los Angeles. Once entrusted to the care of the gallery’s curator (Chicago Hope‘s Peter MacNicol) and his wife (Kindergarten Cop‘s Pamela Reed), he proceeds to wreak havoc with a liberating, blithely destructive resourcefulness matched only, perhaps, by Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill. He blows up a microwave. He vandalizes a masterpiece. He thinks flipping the bird is a friendly American greeting. (It’s not?)
The trouble for pure Beanists (count me in) is — now, here’s an odd one — that Bean doesn’t let Bean stay consistently destructive enough; he’s been sweetened and de-Britified for export. In this slapdash production directed by Mel Smith (The Tall Guy but also, alas, Radioland Murders), written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings) and Robin Driscoll, there’s just enough unrepentant self-centeredness missing to take the hilariously brutish edge off Bean’s game for those who know him. Those who don’t, meanwhile, may wonder whether this guy’s supposed to be lovable, or mean, or what. He’s supposed to be Bean, is all, and I say, why not give him to us full strength? B