A remake that seems to miss the point of what made the original a success, Arthur is a big misfire that completely wastes the gonzo talent that is Russell Brand. What seemed like brilliant casting at the onset is revealed to be flawed as the movie progresses. Brand is an incredible supporting player, but his man-child persona wears thin when in the lead. He was one of the best supporting performances of the year in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and he was still lovably insane in last year’s Get Him to the Greek. Here, with no real lead besides him to take the focus off, he comes off more irritating than endearing. The other issue is that director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham have delivered a watered-down (no pun intended, considering the story) movie that takes the edge off of Brand. The original Arthur isn’t a classic in my eyes, but it was still a lot of fun and had a winning lead performance by Dudley Moore. This version is only barely on par with Arthur 2: On the Rocks.
Arthur (Brand) is a drunken playboy billionaire who still acts like a little child because, well…why not? His life has no consequences, so he lives it as such. He has a full time nanny (Helen Mirren) watching over him, but he still pretty much does as he wants. When his mother (Geraldine James) threatens to take away his inheritance unless he has what amounts to an arranged marriage with the well to do Susan (Jennifer Garner) at the same time he begins falling for a broke amateur tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig), Arthur faces some growing up. When his attempts to earn an honest living go terribly wrong, he needs to make a decision. Will he clean up his act, both literally and figuratively? What’s more important to him in life…love or money? Anyone who’s seen the original or knows this type of story knows the answer.
I usually love Russell Brand, as previously mentioned, but here he just seems restrained. He always rarely seems drunk…more mentally disabled. Perhaps it’s a lack of direction, but he seems bored and lost at times. It’s certainly not bad work, just rather lacking.
Mirren is the straight man (or woman in this case), and she’s having a nice time, but it doesn’t hold a candle to John Gielgud’s original interpretation of Hobson. It’s not fair to judge Brand and Mirren for not being Moore and Gielgud, but even on their own terms, they still are disappointing here. Garner and Gerwig are pretty much wasted here, which is a shame, and James is barely given anything to do. The other parts are filled by the likes of Nick Nolte, Luis Guzman, and John Hodgman, among others, but they’re just taking up space.
Director Winer is just going through the motions. It’s not a bad directing job, but there’s nothing to make it stand out either. It’s thoroughly average. As for the screenplay, Baynham doesn’t give this version of Arthur anything interesting to do, outside of his Batmobile related escapade (the only highlight of the movie for me). The film seems to just…be there. Simply existing and having name recognition in the title isn’t enough to make a quality piece of cinema, and this flick fails miserable at creating its own identity.
Though not awful, Arthur is supremely disappointing and a perfect example of what can happen when you take the edge out of something that was only mildly edgy to begin with. I had high hopes for this film, but neither the talented cast nor the potential for new drunken adventures can make this anything good. I still have faith in Russell Brand, but he let me down in a big way here. There’s just nothing here to enjoy. This version of Arthur needs to go rehab, and fast.
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