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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bean There, Wreaked Havoc With That




There are two kinds of people in this world, as Lev Tolstoy once so aptly observed (admittedly, in a somewhat different context): those who love Bean -- the Chaplinesque persona created by comic Rowan Atkinson -- and those who don't. The former are in for a treat this week as the Kodak Cinema World serves up a mess of Beans in its showing of the eponymous 1997 comedy.


Of course, Mr. Bean is already well known in Moscow parts. Atkinson's long-running British sitcom -- 30 minutes of quick gag bits and long slapstick sequences -- has been playing on Russian television for years. And why not? The character's almost-always silent antics need no laborious translation, while his peculiar brand of baggy-trousers comedy, laced with a twist of cruelty, seems well suited to the Muscovite ethos.


But the Atkinson attraction is not limited to Luzhkov City; "Bean" is in fact the highest grossing British film ever made, outpointing even "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (in which Atkinson had a memorable turn as a maladroit priest) -- and accomplishing this feat before the movie crossed the water to that cinematic cash cow which is America. If it did not quite reduplicate its Commonwealth success there (it had earlier topped box offices in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking dominions), it had a respectable run and now rolls into Moscow as a bona fide worldwide hit.


Ah, but what is it about, you ask? Not much, really: It's just Bean being Bean. And that means a series of constant, self-inflicted disasters, delivered through spastic contortions of body and face, and visiting all manner of embarrassing havoc on the perpetrator and everyone around him. What kind of disasters, ask the unBeaned (if there be such)? Things like getting one's head stuck in the rump of a turkey, shaving one's tongue with an electric razor, "accidentally" plopping a vomit-filled airsickness bag over a fellow passenger's head, and so on.


A little of this can go a long way, and stretched out to movie length, it has a long way to go. But Atkinson's timing is unfailingly precise, and, just as with the television show, tiresome stretches are often redeemed by moments of brilliantly stupid, goonish hilarity. The movie makes a feeble stab at a bit of social satire -- it's set amid the posh pretensions of the Los Angeles art world -- but it's the antics of Mr. Bean, walking one-man disaster, that hold our attention, however flickeringly.There is a plot, slim but serviceable. We open in London, to find Bean disastrously on the job in an art gallery. His colleagues want to give him the sack, but he is saved by the curmudgeonly chief (John Mills). To placate the staff, however, Bean is sent to accompany the painting of "Whistler's Mother" to Los Angeles, where it has been purchased by a right-wing general (Burt Reynolds) who is donating it to a ritzy West Coast gallery.


There Bean is received as the renowned art expert he most assuredly is not. Comic high jinks ensue when a L os Angeles gallery employee (Peter MacN icol) is assigned to shepherd the painting, and Bean, through the course of the installation -- an assignment that eventually costs him his wife, his children and most of his sanity. The set-up is mostly a thinly-sketched excuse to launch Bean on various arias of absurdity as he encounters the only thing on earth that might possibly surpass him in spasmodic silliness: American society.


For through it all, Bean is blithely, resolutely, Bean, enclosed in his own clueless world, and, on the whole, quite happy to stay there. Love him or loathe him, take him or leave him, that's what you get in "Bean." It may be an overly bland diet for some -- who wants nothing but a plate of beans, after all? -- but connoisseurs will no doubt come away from the table satisfied.