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Originally published August 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 24, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Movie review

"Mr. Bean's Holiday" comes to a glorious end

The trifling delights of "Mr. Bean's Holiday" come to a thundering crescendo during the movie's last 10 minutes in a sequence which almost...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

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"Mr. Bean's Holiday," with Rowan Atkinson, Emma de Caunes, Max Baldry, Karel Roden, Willem Dafoe. Directed by Steve Bendelack, from a script by Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll.

85 minutes. Rated PG for brief mild language.

The trifling delights of "Mr. Bean's Holiday" come to a thundering crescendo during the movie's last 10 minutes in a sequence which almost reaches the enchanting heights of "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday," the 1953 masterpiece by French filmmaker and actor Jacques Tati. Otherwise, there's little competition from the wit of Rowan Atkinson's oddball character and the series of gags that want so much to honor Tati's legacy.

Atkinson, along with his director and team of writers, had to know that comparisons with the Tati film would be inevitable. It's not such a bad idea to interject the rubbery-faced, loose-limbed, and mumbly-mouthed Bean character into a wispy, nonsensical story about a man trying to take a vacation and encountering silliness at every turn. But mass-appeal movie silliness has changed and there are too many of us who can say, "I knew Monsieur Hulot, and you, Mr. Bean, are no Monsieur Hulot."

After winning a trip to Cannes in a church lottery — along with a mini video camera, which figures prominently in the series of vignettes and joyful denouement — Mr. Bean bumbles through a stream of comedic gags that usually don't jibe with their setup. He spills things, he chokes down a plate full of oysters and langoustines, he gets thrown off a train, he loses a bus ticket, he rides a broken-down bike faster than a group of pro cyclists (a gag stolen outright from Tati's movie "Jour de Fete"), etc., etc.

It's not all boring and bland, and in spite of the seemingly unrelated bits, the movie will undoubtedly keep a smile on your face. But that's kind of the problem: There are too many chuckles and not nearly enough belly laughs. You keep wishing the buildups and subsequent payoffs were just a little better.

Early in the movie, Bean strikes up an unlikely association with a wayward 10-year-old boy (Max Baldry) that makes for some happy interaction right into the jubilant ending. Especially amusing is a scene in which the two are forced to busk for bus fare in an Avignon market after losing their place on the train to the Côte d'Azur (the backgrounds make for a terrific travelogue). Donning a shawl and using his rubber-limbed dance moves, Bean and the boy get fistfuls of francs and a rousing round of applause for their re-enactment of an operatic aria.

The lost-boy subplot is one of several that float in and out of the movie. Another involves a self-important American director played with great glee by Willem Dafoe. His heinously pretentious film is premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, but the screening and his pomposity are both thwarted by Bean at exactly the right moments. There's also a pretty French girl (Emma de Caunes) whose figure figures throughout, along with a roving band of musicians who always turn up when needed.

Atkinson's Bean speaks only a few garbled words of dialogue, and the whole film is primarily visual. But again, even the warped movements of his face and limbs only go so far when gags don't come off as well as they should.

The sole exception is the glorious finale in which Bean finally finds his beloved beach, and the camera follows him through a genuinely Tati-esque series of movements. With the entire cast united for an inspiring French rendition of "Under the Sea," the lapses that have come before are all but forgiven.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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