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Arthur (2011)

April 8, 2011

  
written by: Jared Stern & Peter Baynham (screenplay) and Steve Gordon (characters)
produced by: Chris Bender, Russell Brand, Michael Tadross, Larry Brezner, Kevin McCormick & J.C. Spink
directed by: Jason Winer
rated PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references)
110 min.
U.S. release date: April 8, 2011
 
 
When a film is remade, it should be for a good reason. Maybe it wasn’t all that great to begin with or maybe it’s so out-dated it could benefit from an update, or perhaps it was altogether overlooked. Hollywood doesn’t care about any of those scenarios though, nor does “Arthur”, a remake of a much-beloved American comedy that starred Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and Sir John Gielgud, fit such criteria. Little do they know, replacing a successfully proven UK gem with a current outrageous UK sensation, doesn’t make for another comedy classic.
 
Warner Bros. is counting on those who’ve never seen their 1981 comedy (of the same name) to flock to theaters and bring in the dough. Apparently, they forget how hilarious and sweet the original Academy Award nominated (it won for Best Song and Best Supporting Actor) movie was, and therefore should not be replicated. But then again, this is the same studio that tried to capture the success of “Arthur” by dropping a sequel dud back in 1988. Although, this remake follows the same formula as the original, it lacks key elements from the first film, primarily heart and chemistry.
 
It might work though, seeing as how a friend of mine (who knew of the original) couldn’t connect that this new movie is a remake. Really? Really.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Manhattan playboy Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) is a spoiled man-child, oblivious to both the real world and the value of money.  The perpetually drunk fool only knows that he has a neverending amount of it and can do whatever he wants with it.  He sleeps in a magnetic bed that hovers over his bedroom floor underneath a revolving mobile solar system that lulls him into each hangover. Treating the city like a game board, he cruises around in his Joel Schumacher Batmobile, playing dynamic duo dress-up with Bitterman (Luis Guzman), his chauffeur and dimwitted accomplice. It’s no surprise the entire police force know him as he makes a joke out of the family name, much to the dismay of his mother (Geraldine James) a cold matriarch who long ago replaced her duties by hiring Hobson (Helen Mirren), who turns out to be Arthur’s only friend. Arthur introduces his lifelong nanny as “my best friend in the whole world”, even though Arthur is the sole benefactor of such a friendship.  
 
Due to his reckless public image, Arthur’s mother gives him an ultimatum: give in to a fixed marriage or be cut off from all funds. He puts up a bit of a fit, but it’s quite obvious what he chooses. The bride to be is unlovable narcissist Susan Johnson (a wonderfully over-the-top Jennifer Garner), who approaches their inevitable union as a business merger, although she does all “Fatal Attraction” on him. But when the immature billionaire is awestruck by a spirited illegal tour guide, Naomi (the always sweet Greta Gerwig), he’s motivation to get out of his wedding increases. It turns, this girl and her penchant for bold short skirts, matches his spontaneity and could care less about his wealth. They get each other. But then there’s that whole “wrong side of the tracks” element that gets in the way. With two women supporting him and two against him, it remains to be seen if Arthur can man-up and not only make choices for himself, but live with the repercussions.
 
“Arthur” marks the first feature film by Jason Winer, who’s made a name for himself as one of the directors of the award-winning ABC series, “Modern Family”.  That show is known for its well-developed characters and hilarious situations, which this movie is sorely lacking. Nothing Winer does here stands out, therefore I’m left to conclude that he was given the easiest transition from small to big screen. For a director who is used to providing laughs on a weekly series, this feels like a gateway exercise to big studio films.
  
  
 
 
 
 
 
 

Some of that is due to Peter Baynham’s color-by-number script, while the rest is due to a lack of chemistry in the cast. Baynham shocked audiences with his work on “Borat” and “Bruno”, yet here he sticks closely to the source material that writer/director David Gordon provided 31 years ago. What the filmmakers forgot was how much New York City was a living and breathing character in that movie. There were more scenes of driving around the metropolis and walking amongst the Big Apple locals, which placed the characters in a real city, instead of what feels like sets. Winer does try though, but several sweeping aerial shots of the skyline and Central Park just doesn’t cut it. He also completely ignores showing any of the seedier sides of the city like Gordon did. That’s a mistake, since such juxtaposition of social classes was part of what made the film so great.  
 

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the cast just doesn’t work. Mirren, Garner, and Gerwig are fine and do well with what they’re given. There’s really no one else other than Mirren who could take on the role that Gielgud mastered. She’s fantastic here, especially in a scene at an AA meeting. I enjoyed how they made Susan into a ball-busting powerhouse, offering Garner the ability to display her comic chops (but I could’ve done without Nick Nolte picking up a paycheck by playing her indecipherable bullish father).

 
Gerwig is a bit of a problem though. What was so great about Minnelli in the role of Linda, the woman who Moore’s Arthur falls for, is that she was able to match banter and wits with Moore and Gielgud so effortlessly. Go back and watch it and take note of their priceless first encounter. Gerwig’s Naomi is all sweet with no sass (both are needed when dealing with any Arthur) and she works well off Brand, but as a couple….they just look odd. Her character also lives with her father, yet their neighborhood isn’t a “hood” nor is their economic situation seem so dire. I mean, the girl uses a Mac book! Now, that’s a poor I can get behind.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Since the actors surrounding Brand has proved their talent in previous work, so I’m gonna blame the material and Brand. That’s right, I’m blaming the star himself. For the record, I don’t dislike Brand. In fact, I really enjoyed him in last year’s “Get Him to The Greek” where he played a selfish, rich alcoholic….wait a minute. Sound familiar? So, the problem lies in the realization that we’ve seen Brand do this before. Do we want to see him do this again and again? Hollywood does.
 
Brand tries to convey the undeniable charm and twinkling innocence that Moore had, but he does so with an obnoxious abrasiveness that is far from endearing. Physically, the two actors are at least a foot apart, something that benefited Moore and just didn’t work for the new Arthur. Too often, the imposing Brand comes across like a frightening Salvador Dali painting come to life. He doesn’t have the cheerful drunken cackle that Moore’s impish Hobbit had, that’s for sure. And as for the crucial element of playing drunk? Moore’s constant inebriation is natural, whereas Brand feels forced, like he’s acting.
 
While the movie found me laughing, it also served as a reminder of just how good the original was and still is. I recently caught it on Netflix’s Watch Instantly, which confirmed my fond recollection of it (it was a special shared secret viewing experience with my father), so I can attest to this. And yes, I dearly missed the wonderful sounds of Burt Bacharach and Christopher Cross. If you know the original well enough, you’ll just wind up noticing the similarities and differences, while nodding at the modern updates. If this is your first “Arthur”, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Russell Brand playing Russell Brand.

 

RATING: **

  

 

 

 
 
 

 

  
 

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