One of the classic set-ups for comedy is what I refer to as the “Cat in the Hat” plot — one or more “normal,” somewhat bored characters find their lives completely (and yet somehow enjoyably) disrupted by a free- spirited character who has what a modern psychologist might refer to as “sloppy impulse control.” This is the basic premise of the first feature film starring Rowan Atkinson’s cult favorite, Mr. Bean. Bean is something of a throwback to the classic silent film comedians, a childlike man who is unabashedly consumed with enjoying himself, and incapable of considering the consequences for others. In an effort to make the character more appealing to a U.S. audience, the producers have sent Mr. Bean to Los Angeles and to actually have him not only trying to solve the problem he creates but even hugging someone. The result is uncomfortably uneven.
Frustrated with his work as an incompetent guard at an art museum, but unable to fire him, his supervisors send him to a U.S. art gallery as an “expert,” to speak at the unveiling of “Whistler’s Mother.” All of this is an excuse for what is really a series of slapstick sketches (on an airplane, in a kitchen, in a hospital, and of course in the art gallery) involving very little dialogue, but many funny faces and physical contortions, and a lot of potty humor and general grossness.
Parents should know that there are some sexual references. Younger kids may miss the suggestiveness of Bean’s pelvic gyrations when he is trying to dry his pants in the mens’ room. But a young boy says that he can’t sleep because he keeps thinking about naked women and asks what an intrauterine device is. There is a modern version of “Whistler’s Sister,” featuring a nude. Bean gives people “the finger,” thinking it is a friendly gesture. Grossness includes an exploding vomit bag on the plane, a very wet sneeze onto a painting, an overdose of laxatives, and a candy dropped into an open incision, washed off, and eaten. Bean and his American host (Peter MacNicol as David Langley) respond to disaster at work by going out to get drunk. Langley’s wife and children respond to disaster at home by leaving. His daughter is in a motorcycle accident and it is not clear whether she will be all right.
This movie will be most successful with kids who are already familiar with the character and appreciate that kind of humor. Other kids may be very uncomfortable with the gross and embarrassing situations. Parents may want to point out that Bean is upset by the guns carried by the police because British police don’t carry guns. They will also want to talk about the different attitudes toward art, and about Bean’s “solution” to the problems he creates. Kids may enjoy knowing that Atkinson did the voice of Zazu in “The Lion King” (but adults will remember him as the malapropish vicar in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”).