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" Corpsicle "
— Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon

MRQE Top Critic

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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A faithful follower of the British TV series, I was eager to see Bean. Rowan Atkinson, as Mr. Bean, is the only comic these days who does great nonverbal comedy. Seeing him in a feature-length film was going to be a treat.

His TV show is presented in half-hour pieces, split into 2 or 3 seven-minute sketches. Each sketch, then, is about as long as a Looney Tunes cartoon, and just as silly.

In Bean, there are still identifiable sketches, and each is about the same length as in the show, maybe shorter. Some of them are great. Many of them are recycled from his TV show. One thing’s certain, there aren’t enough of them.

These sketches fit within Mr. Bean’s latest adventure: a night guard at a museum, Bean is selected to be the museum’s liaison in a deal to sell Whistler’s Mother to an American gallery. He is chosen not for his knowledge of Whistler, but because the job will get him out of the British museum’s hair for three months.

On the show, the sketches are always tightly packed with Atkinson’s gags. However, in the movie, a lot of time is spent between sketches on the “required” structure of a movie — plot, characters, conflict, etc. Those gaps are what makes Bean an average movie instead of a hilarious star vehicle.

The problem with the gaps is not just the absence of Atkinson; it is the presence of a token plot and shallow characters that requires the attention to shift from silly abandon to forced concern. Any comic momentum Atkinson builds is halted when the movie cuts to his American host’s (Peter MacNicol) wife (Pamela Reed) threatening divorce.

I have seen interviews with Smith who says the movie structure was a necessary evil. I think he’s wrong. Too many directors take the traditional structure of a movie as a necessity. I sometimes complain that a movie has “too much plot, not enough action.” This time, it’s “too much plot, not enough Rowan.”

A good example of a movie that shunned plot in favor of comedy is Liar Liar. In that movie, a wisp of a plot and a clever idea gives Jim Carrey a good 60 minutes of comic material. The story in Bean seems solid enough to have given Smith and Atkinson the same opportunity, but they were too careful, too concerned with the plot.

Smith even said he had to cut some of Rowan’s sketches that didn’t fit well with the story. What Smith didn’t realize is that if Bean will be remembered, it won’t be for the story, it will be for Atkinson’s performance. Cutting Atkinson in favor of the story was a bad case of misordered priorities.