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NOVEMBER 10, 1997: 

Eve's Bayou

Set in Louisiana's backwater Creole community during the late '50s, Kasi Lemmons's gothic exploration of womanhood is piercing in conception but languorous in execution. It's a coming-of-age tale about two adolescent sisters, Eve (Jurnee Smollett) and Cisely (Meagan Good), who are coping with a dysfunctional family. Things begin inauspiciously when Eve catches her father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson), with a neighbor's wife in the wine cellar. They get worse when Louis's strayings hit even closer to home.

The redoubtable Jackson is in a tough spot here: his middle-class house doctor with an overactive libido is not merely bad, he's despicable and selfish. And the convoluted cast of characters gets even more perplexing with the radiant Lynn Whitfield as Louis's controlling wife, soap star Debbi Morgan as Louis's psychic sister who has serendipitously lost three husbands, and poor Diahann Carroll as a squalid fortuneteller. Lemmons, making her directorial debut, has set her sights high, but her amateurish, pretentious craftsmanship makes for stilted results. A line from her own script sums up the film: "If there's no point at all, then that's the point." At the Nickelodeon, the Kendall Square, and the Circle.

-- Tom Meek


British TV comic Rowan Atkinson's Carrey-esque contortions are probably responsible for this big-screen update of his Mr. Bean show. But Atkinson's reactive brand of bug-eyed and near-silent comedy has always been more akin to Jacques Tati -- plus a lecherous pinch of Jerry Lewis, the better to invade the viewer's personal space. Essentially a string of gut-busting visual vignettes for Atkinson's titular man-child -- Bean shaving his tongue and forehead with an electric razor, Bean humping a men's-room hand dryer after wetting his pants, Bean wearing a half-stuffed turkey on his head -- the film pulls what little plot it has from Lewis's trademark mistaken-patsy formula. A distinguished group of Royal National Gallery board members nominate the violently inept Mr. Bean to accompany a $50 million painting to LA, mainly to get him out of their hair.

Hence, Mr. Bean does America: making himself at home with a highly forgiving LA curator (Peter MacNichol) and his dysfunctional family; wreaking havoc at an amusement park; and straining to restore the pricy painting that he literally defaces. Unfortunately, director Mel Smith (Radioland Murders) disregards the Englishman's culture shock in favor of universal bodily-function gags and male bonding. But as in the series, the film's deliberately slow pace contrasts with the comic's antics to make them even funnier. And if Bean's tacked-on final third plays like a separate episode (imagine Bean as a hands-on surgeon!), this is still a side-splitting showcase for Atkinson's abrasive gift. At the Copley Place, the Janus, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Rob Nelson

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