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Looser and more lighthearted than Bean (1997), Mr. Bean's Holiday is a movie rarity: a stand-alone sequel more enjoyable than the first. Actually, this film better captures the feel of the HBO series where Rowan Atkinson originated his rubber-faced, barely verbal Mr. Bean, whose expertise at causing chaos was equaled only by his wide-eyed naïveté.

Mr. Bean's Holiday sends the hapless man-child on a picaresque journey from Paris to Cannes, and by traversing Jacques Tati's home turf, Atkinson picks up some of that French comedian's joie de vivre. Even the title is a nod to Tati's 1953 film, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, where his iconic character (who speaks even less than Bean) heads to the seaside for a vacation and creates havoc in his wake.

In a brisk opening sequence set in rainy London, Mr. Bean wins a trip to the sunny French Riviera in a church raffle. Director Steve Bendelack (The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse) knows how to make slapstick that's not slapdash, and hits on all the essential Beanisms — from his affection for his vintage Mini to the absolutely shameless way he expresses his emotions — before he quickly puts the character in motion.

That forward momentum is what makes Mr. Bean's Holiday such a romp. By keeping Bean on the move, the character has to continually deal with unfamiliar situations, and his peculiar charms emerge. When he's paired up with Stepan (Max Baldry), a boy separated from his filmmaker father (Karel Roden) by Bean's inadvertently inconsiderate actions, Atkinson finds a great comic foil.

Their mock tragic pantomime to Puccini's opera show-stopper "O mio babbino caro" is one of the film's great smart, silly moments, as is the conversation on the road to Cannes between the English Bean, Russian Stepan, and French budding starlet Sabine (Emma de Caunes), each one speaking a different language, and each hearing what they want to hear.

Pleasant surprise: Willem Dafoe shows off his comic chops as a hilariously self-indulgent filmmaker oblivious to his own boorishness.

And what of Bean himself? At 52, Atkinson hasn't changed dramatically, but he's a bit more gaunt, and there's a kind of poignancy to the character now that he's allowing an emotional frailty to peek through the comic bluster. Desperation suits him, and Mr. Bean's Holiday shows Atkinson cutting loose from the character's confines and having fun. The feeling is contagious.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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