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Film review: Bean

Vulgar, slapstick comedy is disappointing, although it has a few good moments.

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Despite its blockbuster status in Europe and Canada, "Bean" is not going to be a huge hit in America. Even devoted fans of Rowan Atkinson's nerdy "Mr. Bean" character — myself among them — are bound to be disappointed with this padded-out, feature-length slapstick comedy.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the character of the British Mr. Bean, he's sort of a more irritating cross of Ernest P. Worrell, Pee-wee Herman and Jacques Tati, who made slapstick French comedies in the 1950s that were virtually silent. Except that Bean has a nasty streak lacking in those more innocent characters.

Bean is a childlike buffoon who can't resist his impulses, consequently wreaking havoc wherever he goes. Each episode of the half-hour "Mr. Bean" show that runs on PBS stations (locally on Ch. 7, Saturdays at 11 p.m.) is actually made up of two 15-minute shorts, and some of them are riotously funny. At my house, we show his Christmas episode to the entire family every year and we all fall down laughing.

Holding court for 90 minutes, however, is another matter. And "Bean" wears out his welcome all too quickly.

The story has Bean working as a sleepy security guard in London's National Art Gallery. The board of directors would like to fire him, but he has somehow endeared himself to the chairman (a thankless cameo by Sir John Mills).

So they do the next best thing. They send him to the Los Angeles Art Gallery to accompany the purchase of "Whistler's Mother" for $50 million, courtesy of an endowment from an Army general (Burt Reynolds).

Bean moves in with the family of a dysfunctional gallery employee (Peter MacNicol), and, to understate, difficulties ensue, much to the consternation of all.

"Bean" does have some funny moments and I occasionally laughed out loud. But the film runs out of steam in the first half-hour, and some of the gags are far too vulgar (particularly a moment in a restroom).

Worse, there are a number of gags in the film that come directly from the TV episodes, as when Bean gets his head stuck in a turkey, and when he inadvertently pops a used air-sickness bag on an airplane. But they aren't performed nearly as cleverly this time around.

Still, Rowan Atkinson — best known in this country for his performance as the tongue-tied priest in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and as the voice of Zazu the hornbill in "The Lion King" — has a wonderful talent for physical comedy, and his embodiment of this character, his ability to make him funny instead of just grating, is quite an achievement.

Simply put, "Bean" has its moments, but don't expect too much.

"Bean" is rated PG-13 for vulgarity, a nude photo (of "Whistler's Sister"), violence and profanity.