I had never seen any of Rowan Atkinson's performances as Mr. Bean when this movie came out in 1997, so I knew nothing about it when I went to see it other than that it was about the zany adventures of this strange looking man on the movie poster. He strikes me as one of those comedians that you either completely love or completely hate, because his comedy is so extreme. It's not the kind of thing that you can watch and just sort of like or not really care for. It's one of those movies where it's not surprising to see people walk out in the middle while other people are just about falling out of their chairs laughing so hard. Personally, I was one of the latter.
I admit that Bean certainly deals in a very childish sort of humor. This is, by definition, slapstick comedy, and it is certainly not for all tastes. But from the movie's opening scene, which shows Bean gleefully shaving his entire face with an electric razor (including his forehead and even his tongue), you know that this is what the movie is like, so you can't really hold that against it.
The story in the film is clearly one of those that is invented for the movie and then manipulated to fit the screenplay and to work nicely into the movie. It's not that hard to realize that such a huge art gallery could be fooled for so long by someone like Mr. Bean, thinking that he's a genius, and certainly no way that he would be left alone with a $50 million painting long enough to remove it from the vault and rub paint thinner into it, but on the other hand, the rest of the comedy fits so nicely into this plot. At the very least, there are relatively realistic situations thrown into an unrealistic plot, which makes the movie enjoyable even though you don't really take it seriously.
There is a wonderful scene, for example, where Bean sneezes on the painting of Whistler's Mother, and then he tries to wipe off the spray with his handkerchief, which has been smeared with a leaky pen. So the painting gets smeared with ink, and he grabs the first can he sees off a nearby shelf, which happens to be paint thinner. It cleans the ink off nicely but then causes the paint to boil off, and then Bean frantically tries to save it by wiping it even harder, rubbing the paint off right down to the canvas. Sure, this is not the mark of an intelligent mind, but that's the point of the whole movie.
Bean is a film that relies on the fact that humans are so amused by the misfortunes of others. There's something funny about seeing someone else get into a sticky situation, and in movies like this, they do just that and things only get worse and worse. Granted, there are a million ways out of every situation that Bean gets into that would be less painful than the routes that he chooses, but if he took them there would be no movie. Consider, for example, the bathroom scene where a man walks in on Bean as he appears to be getting a little too friendly with a hot air dryer. He quickly grabs a light bulb pretending that he had been examining it, and then the man leaves and Bean drops the hot bulb to break on the ground and when he goes to run cold water over his burnt fingers the water sprays his crotch again. Total slapstick, but that's funny!
Like I said, Bean is not a movie for all tastes. But there is a place for childish humor in movies, and that place is in movies like this. It certainly can be taken too far or simply done wrong, as in the case of movies like the American Pies or the Scary Movies, etc., but Bean is a movie that knows what kind of comedy it delivers, and it knows how far to go before things just descend into vulgarity and bad taste. It's a comedy that does not pretend to be anything that it's not, and for that it should be respected. It is also, by the way, the kind of a comedy that allows for an almost innumerable amount of sequels. While I can certainly see it being vastly overdone, I would just like to say that if a couple more Bean movies were to be made, I would be among the last to complain!