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Watered Down 'Bean'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 7, 1997

His name is Bean, and heís already a legume in his own lifetime. A bulgy-eyed, laconic character in high-watermark trousers, goofy brogues and a shirt and tie, who walks from calamity to calamity, heís the highly popular star of a British television comedy series that aired in England during the 1990s.

His movie debut, "Bean," has shot up like a beanstalk worldwide, with a box office gross thus far of $120 million. He also has a strong cult following in America, as avid viewers of his public TV-aired shows will attest.

Whether this movie connects with a wider, American audience remains to be seen. Bean, played by British actor-comedian Rowan Atkinson (who was the jittery priest in "Four Weddings and a Funeral") is weirder than cute -- a possible setback for anyone trying to attract American moviegoers. On the TV show, at least, he has a mean, self-serving streak.

Obviously worried about this, scriptwriters Richard Curtis (who co-created Bean) and Robin Driscoll have smoothed over Beanís less-than-savory qualities. The movie, which doesnít have the tightness and the character-conscious quality of the episodes, is a transparent attempt to sell Bean to kids all over the world -- American ones in particular. As for the plot, which essentially strings a bunch of Beanisms together as our Bean reacts to Los Angeles life, itís hardly great art. But even through this PG-13 filter, any Bean is good Bean. When the man gets going, heís screamingly funny.

Bean is the worst employee at the National Art Gallery in London. Paid to do little more than watch paintings, he dozes at the job, head hunched so far forward it touches the floor. Determined to dump this loser, the gallery board sends him to accompany Whistlerís great painting, "Whistlerís Mother," to the Grierson Gallery in Los Angeles, which has just bought the masterpiece for $50 million. Bean, they tell the Grierson curators and trustees, is an art expert who will enlighten them at the unveiling ceremony with insightful remarks about the Whistler.

Bean, of course, hasnít the slightest idea about art. Heís completely bewildered by the circle of curators, trustees and patrons eager to hear his pearls of wisdom. Invited to stay a few months at the home of curator David Langley (Peter MacNicol), his wife Alison (Pamela Reed) and their two children, he does his best to seem authoritative.

But heís a man of almost no words, bizarre behavior, oblivious selfishness and incurable destructiveness. It isnít long before Langleyís wife packs her bags and the kids, rather than deal with this guy. David, whose job is on the line, is forced to hang in there until the bitter end.

It is Beanís attempts to correct his blunders that are to be savored. Moments before his meeting with the Grierson trustees, for instance, Bean accidentally splashes his pants in the bathroom. Terrified about the embarrassing wet spot, Bean frantically climbs a trash can so he can dry his crotch against the automatic dryer. Unfortunately, one of the trustees enters the bathroom and sees Bean humping and thrusting inexplicably against the wall.

Then thereís the time Bean is trying to stuff a turkey for a hastily prepared dinner at Davidís house. After completing the business, he realizes he has lost his wristwatch somewhere in there. So he digs desperately into the stuffing. Getting increasingly desperate, he pokes his head into the birdís cavity, only to find he canít get the thing off his head. He staggers into the dining room where his unsuspecting guests are about to get the turkey-headed shock of their lives.

The movie feels stretched out and thin. But for older kids, their parental handlers (who are amazed and grateful for anything even remotely amusing) and appreciators of weird comedy, there are worse things you could do than watch. While Atkinson gets the giggles, MacNicol makes a useful foil. Beanís antics are made doubly funny by the absolute horror in Davidís face as he tries valiantly to understand this -- this extraterrestrial.

"Please stay here and do nothing," he begs Bean at one point. "If you do nothing, nothing can go wrong." Heís dead wrong, of course. But if he only knew the mischief Bean is capable of getting up to, heíd thank his lucky stars.

BEAN (PG-13) ó Contains mild instances of lewd suggestiveness, ickiness (an exploded vomit bag) and slapstick injuries.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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