Mr. Bean's Holiday -- What's the Matter With This Country?

This movie is packing 'em in all over the world -- but not in the good old USA which is, for some reason, beyond the reach of Mr. Bean's elastic limbs.

I include myself in the indictment, by the way. I was 20 minutes or more into this movie before my discomfort subsided to be replaced by a kind of delight I haven't felt in ages -- a child's delight in fact. And that's when I realized why most Americans just don't get Mr. Bean.

I was uncomfortable to begin with because of his wildly exaggerated gestures and expressions -- that's what I thought, anyway, I thought I was put off by what looked like a lot of gratuitous mugging and pratfalls. But when I finally let myself be lifted onto the zany plane of free-associational surreality which is Mr. Bean's native element I understood that it was not really the pratfalls and mugging that put me off at all. It was the innocence. My jaded tastes had been put off by the innocence of Mr. Bean. What a statement.

I liked early Jim Carrey after all -- Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. Comedy doesn't come any broader than that. SNL with John Belushi. Early Steve Martin, I loved that stuff. On a purely physical level, old Steve with an arrow through his head performing "King Tut" was every bit as exaggerated as Mr. Bean. And we lapped it all up and asked for more. And we got it too -- wacko antics are all over our screens (though they do go by awful fast).

So what it is it about broad physicality in American comedy that makes it so different from Mr. Bean? Easy. It's all done with a wink and nod toward you, the hipster in the audience who's in on the joke. Even the big cartoon hits -- the Shreks and the Penguins -- they all treat kids as if they were sophisticate ironists. In fact, those big cartoon hits are training kids to be sophisticated ironists. And sophisticated ironists like things to go fast. That way you don't notice how hollow they are.

If -- when -- you go see Mr. Bean's Holiday don't be thinking Jack Nicholson chews up the scenery as The Joker. Be thinking Charlie Chaplin in Limelight. It might slow you down enough to enjoy something that's sincere as well as funny.