Russell Brand Tries Too Hard in Lame ‘Arthur’

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Average: 4.8 (11 votes) Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There are many problems inherent in film remakes, starting with comparisons to the original source. The first “Arthur,” while not a classic, did have a warm, funny story and Dudley Moore’s title performance. The current remake has none of that.

Russell Brand is Arthur Bach, the (now) billionaire alcoholic playboy, and the odd casting was obviously designed to capitalize on the Brand character, the befuddled party boy displayed in recent films like “Get Him to the Greek.” Brand practically sweats blood trying to get something, anything out of the weak script and not only fails Arthur Bach, but starts to annoy virtually immediately.

The structure of the 1981 original remains intact. Arthur is New York City’s most notorious rich drunk, spending his time on having fun, which in this interpretation includes bizarre rituals like dressing up as Batman, with his chauffeur Bitterman (Luis Guzmán) as a fat Robin. His antics are constantly in the tabloids, distressing his only living parent (Geraldine James). He begins to drag on the billion dollar family reputation, so the corporation and his mother devise a plan to make Arthur grow up.

This action involves marrying him off, preferably to a business person that can assume the reins of the Bach fortune. This leads to Susan (Jennifer Garner), the ambitious heir to a crude upper middle class developer (Nick Nolte), looking to get her hands on real money. Arthur wants none of that, and complains amidst the ritual comfort of his long time nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren). The caregiver tries to convince him that this might be the best thing to do, but Arthur only agrees when faced with being cut off from the family fortune.

Co-Dependents: Helen Mirren (Hobson) and Russell Brand (Arthur) in ‘Arthur’
Co-Dependents: Helen Mirren (Hobson) and Russell Brand (Arthur) in ‘Arthur’
Photo credit: Barry Wetcher for Warner Bros. Pictures

Like the first film, another woman invades this scenario, this time an earth angel tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig). Arthur is smitten with Naomi even while getting engaged to Susan, and begins to woo the lower middle class girl from the Bronx, who dreams of being a children’s book author. When you get caught between the moon and New York City, blah, blah, blah.

Given that Brand and Helen Mirren have the unenviable task of performing against the memory of the late Dudley Moore and John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hobson), their current take on the simple rich boy/poor girl fable falls short on both levels, both as a comparison against the original and in the attempt to modernize elements of the story to suit them – and presumably modern audiences who are more accustomed to the lionization of rich people.

Not that they both don’t try. Brand obviously knew why the producers hired him, to personify the new Arthur with the same devil-may-care British rock star personality that has served him particularly well in past three years. This is not a comfortable fit for the Arthur story, as long stretches that pass for comedy is simply Brand riffing annoyingly on the one note. Oscar winner Mirren is better as Hobson, although nowhere near as good as Gielgud. Brand and she have little chemistry, and seem to get in each other’s way.

The supporting cast, given much less to do in this version than the previous, fall back on short, easy stereotypes to project the characters. Jennifer Garner, perhaps getting the worst of the script, is soft and strange instead of hard and funny. Greta Gerwig, who is the only character with a different name from the first film, plays Naomi as a dreamy, blank eccentric, who loves New York City so darn much that she volunteers unlicensed tours. A billionaire party boy falls in love with that?

Lesser supporters do no better. Nick Nolte, virtually unrecognizable from his reputation as a decent actor, can’t find his hard-as-nails wealthy contractor patriarch, and barely speaks above a whisper. Luis Guzmán is asked to embarrassingly expand upon the chauffeur character from the first film, but ends up replacing organic laughs just by being a thick accented, large boned prop for Arthur.

Meet Cute: Greta Gerwig (Naomi) and Russell Brand in ‘Arthur’
Meet Cute: Greta Gerwig (Naomi) and Russell Brand in ‘Arthur’
Photo credit: Barry Wetcher for Warner Bros. Pictures

The biggest sin of Arthur is that it’s simply not funny, and when the so-called comedy turns toward the serious side (Hobson is ill), can’t find its legs there either. The first film handled both effortlessly. In fact, the first film cast performers as real characters that steered both the laughs and story, in this version they exist merely to set up the gee-whiz-can’t-Arthur-buy-everything scene or as the killjoys against all his fun. The modern creators can’t help but focus on the rich man’s toys, which remains crass and uninteresting.

This remake of Arthur is actually a bit depressing, because it takes a 30 year old well remembered dusty film entertainment and grinds it into a powder that easily blows away. Best that you can do, is fall into another line at the multiplex.

“Arthur” opens everywhere on April 8th. Featuring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Luis Guzmán, Geraldine James, John Hodgeman and Nick Nolte. Screenplay by Peter Baynham, directed by Jason Winer. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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