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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 11/06/1997,


British TV comic Rowan Atkinson's Carrey-esque contortions are probably responsible for this big-screen update of his Mr. Bean show. But Atkinson's reactive brand of bug-eyed and near-silent comedy has always been more akin to Jacques Tati -- plus a lecherous pinch of Jerry Lewis, the better to invade the viewer's personal space. Essentially a string of gut-busting visual vignettes for Atkinson's titular man-child -- Bean shaving his tongue and forehead with an electric razor, Bean humping a men's-room hand dryer after wetting his pants, Bean wearing a half-stuffed turkey on his head -- the film pulls what little plot it has from Lewis's trademark mistaken-patsy formula. A distinguished group of Royal National Gallery board members nominate the violently inept Mr. Bean to accompany a $50 million painting to LA, mainly to get him out of their hair.

Hence, Mr. Bean does America: making himself at home with a highly forgiving LA curator (Peter MacNichol) and his dysfunctional family; wreaking havoc at an amusement park; and straining to restore the pricy painting that he literally defaces. Unfortunately, director Mel Smith (Radioland Murders) disregards the Englishman's culture shock in favor of universal bodily-function gags and male bonding. But as in the series, the film's deliberately slow pace contrasts with the comic's antics to make them even funnier. And if Bean's tacked-on final third plays like a separate episode (imagine Bean as a hands-on surgeon!), this is still a side-splitting showcase for Atkinson's abrasive gift. At the Copley Place, the Janus, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Rob Nelson