Film review – Arthur

ARTHUR

Arthur opens on Friday 22nd April 2011. Cert:12A Running time:110 mins

This pointless and predominately unfunny remake of the 1981 light romantic comedy – which starred ”˜Cuddly’ Dudley Moore as a loveable drunken millionaire with Sir John Gielgud as his straight-laced butler and Liza Minnelli as the kooky love interest – was meant to launch livewire comedian Russell Brand’s career as a Hollywood leading man in America. Unfortunately, Arthur has the potential to kill Brand’s acting aspirations stone cold dead at the starting gate.

Arthur

Though there has been some tinkering with the original 1981 model, essentially the basic plot of Arthur remains the same. Brand is the eccentric, child-like, English playboy billionaire Arthur Bach, a warm-hearted individual who lives a totally frivolous and ultimately empty existence in Manhattan. The alcoholic Arthur gets by on his wealth and charm, with much assistance from his resolute lifelong nanny and friend, Hobson (Helen Mirren, substituting for Gielgud’s butler). When another calamitous exploit of Arthur’s threatens the reputation of the family’s wealth generating foundation, Bach Worldwide, his vexed mother issues an ultimatum ”“ he must settle down and marry the attractive but ruthlessly ambitious corporate executive Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner) or be disinherited without a penny.
Terrified at the prospect of having to cope for himself, Arthur reluctantly agrees to marry Susan. However, on the concourse of Grand Central Station he encounters and falls for free spirit Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an unofficial New York tour guide who shares a similar impulsiveness and romanticism to Arthur. Naomi, like Hobson, sees much unfulfilled potential in Arthur. Will Arthur stand up for what he really wants or succumb to the familiar comforts of his old way of life?

The 1981 Arthur movie was hardly a great masterwork of cinema, though incredibly successful at the box office, so on paper it should have been a suitable property for a remake/remodel. Yet the plan of producers Larry Brezner, Kevin McCormick, Chris Bender and Michael Tadross was botched.

There are numerous reasons for the abject failure of Arthur 2011. Firstly, Brand is miscast. The acerbic and strange Brand (perhaps in some scenes trying to channel the spirit of the late, great dandy/artist Sebastian Horsley) is not at all amiable like Moore. In both physicality and temperament, Brand shares more similarity with Moore’s comedy partner, Peter Cook. Like Peter Cook, Brand is not a good actor and for much of the picture he appears somewhat lost and emotionless ”“ which could be down to Jason Winer’s direction in his directorial debut. Whether Brand is a character actor with one sole character, his own, rather than an actor, definitely remains to be seen.

The slightly haggard Dudley Moore was very convincing as an alcoholic (for obvious reasons), but the waxed and toned Brand simply looks like a former drug addict who has been very adept at looking after himself. Also perhaps in 2011 alcoholism is not as inherently ”˜funny’ as it was considered to be in 1981, which would account for the inclusion of a couple scenes depicting visits to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Though his numerous detractors will have a field day with this picture, Brand is undoubtedly a talented stand-up comic with a sharp wit and highly inventive imagination. But within the confines of this staid and distinctly old-fashioned Hollywood vehicle (Arthur was even pretty anachronistic in 1981), Brand’s strengths (spontaneity, comedic antagonism and daring) are all but airbrushed away. Furthermore, would we rather not see Brand given free-range to practice his anarchic humour than having to endure watching him learn ”˜valuable life lessons.’ Maybe times are too hard to feel the pain of a dissolute billionaire.

The failure of Arthur as a modern day fairy tale is not all down to Russell Brand. The underrated Garner’s Susan is far more charismatic and interesting than Gerwig’s bland Naomi, the amusing Luis Guzman is completely underused as Arthur’s driver (his character seems to solely exist in Peter ”˜Borat’ Baynham’s script so that Brand will not repeat Dudley Moore’s scenes of drunk driving) and the legendary Nick Nolte steals the picture from the polished Mirren as Susan’s harder than nails, overly protective, successful father. Yet it will be Brand whom one suspects will be left carrying the can for this unsatisfying mess.

At least an updated savaging of Christopher Cross’ admittedly appalling original 1981 Arthur theme song runs over the closing credits, so you can miss it.

Copyright © Ian Johnston 2011

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