Mr Magoo with malice

The puerile Mr Bean has made it from TV to the big screen, from London to Los Angeles. But the idiot's-eye outlook he offers remains the same
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The Independent Culture
Rowan Atkinson makes infrequent appearances on the cinema screen, and it can be quite a shock to see him up there in all his grotesque, gurning, reptilian glory. He could be a Gerald Scarfe cartoon sprung to life -his skin is peppered with inkspot moles, his nose can transform his face into a weasel's snout at the slightest flaring of his shotgun- barrel nostrils, and his eyebrows are so autonomously expressive they should have their own Equity cards. If Atkinson had been plying his trade at the start of the century, it would have been from the cage next door to John Merrick's.

With a face like that, all you need is a decent script. And that's exactly what Bean needs. Mel Smith's film is an attempt to transfer the adventures of Mr Bean - who, for those of you lucky enough to have missed the puerile television series, is like Mr Magoo with added malice and mucus - to Los Angeles. This location has clearly been chosen to appeal to American audiences, and to exploit the culture-clash element in the comedy.

But the Bean character is already internationally popular, and experiences culture-clash in every moment of his daily life. There's no situation where he fits in, and no location that doesn't offer him infinite opportunities for slapstick and embarrassment, so Los Angeles is left looking superfluous, drained of life and colour despite the film-maker's attempt at using Randy Newman's "I Love LA" in a non-ironic capacity.

To get Mr Bean to California takes surprisingly little fuss (if the film has anything in its favour, it's brevity). The art gallery where he works - apparently the National Gallery, although that's not the building we see - dispatches him to introduce the unveiling of Whistler's Mother in Los Angeles. His bosses want him out of their hair, though why they're willing to risk their reputation by sending an imbecile to represent them is never explained. One bag-of-vomit gag later and Mr Bean hits America, to stay with David (Peter MacNicol) and his sitcom-style family. What they expect is a genius. What they get is a man who is never so alive as when he's catching M&Ms in his mouth.

Atkinson has commented that the film explores a different side to Mr Bean, which is exactly the sort of thing an actor plugging his latest film would say, though there's a touch of truth to it. Mr Bean is not exactly a likeable character, but he can be endearingly resourceful at times, and any substance he has in the film comes from his reaction to the damage he causes - in one scene, he uses great ingenuity to break into the gallery and repair the damage he has done to its prize painting. He's not an anarchist. He tidies up after himself.

And, like Mr Magoo, he comes out of the chaos unscathed. He's called upon to give a speech at the gallery, but when it turns out that the philanthropic sponsor (a nice brusque cameo by Burt Reynolds) is no art historian but a patriotic xenophobe worried that Whistler might stray into foreign hands, Mr Bean is home free.

He emerges as a hero because those around him are philistines. It's an idiot's-eye view of the world which should prove appealing only to viewers who consider Morons from Outer Space to be an unparalleled high point in cinema comedyn

On general release from tomorrow (PG)