Arthur (2011) Warner Bros.
1 hr. 50 mins.
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Geraldine James, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte
Directed by: Jason Winer
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
When the original Arthur was released thirty years ago in 1981 it was an unexpected joy “to get stuck between the moon and New York City” with Dudley Moore, composer Christopher Cross and company. Now with the updated installment featuring the roguish Russell Brand as the childlike drinking billionaire in search for love and laughter we are just merely stuck! No doubt that anyone that has fond memories of writer-director Steve Gordon’s early 80’s gem will recall the playful ease of Moore’s enchanting drunkard going out on a poignant, silly limb. However, some may want Brand and director Jason Winer to jump from a selected limb in the futile effort of recapturing a familiar story about the Manhattan-based happy-go-lucky wealthy weasel desperately trying to hold his booze.
Predictably, the lame results are evident in 2011’s Arthur as the screwball touch to this millennium madcap movie lacks the sweetness and skillful nuttiness of yesteryear’s blueprint. The late Moore was lovably acknowledged as a top hat-wearing cad whose bumbling tendencies was subtly drenched in playful sorry and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Brand’s distinctive interpretation of the role he’s merely clownish and infuriating. Brand is a funny wrecking ball but the tepid trappings of this modern-day Arthur leaves him strapped with an infantile-inducing script that never quite generates its pity purpose.
Screenwriter Peter Baynham (“Bruno”, “Borat”) has some knack for suggesting a cozy kind of craziness for Brand’s intoxicated man-child Arthur Bach (some may get a heavy chuckle out of Arthur’s Batmobile ride in the busy streets of New York as a wacky sight gag in the making). Still, it seems rather random and forced in pitting Brand’s stupor-induced boozehound in uncompromising positions that feel clumsily manufactured. Although Winer’s tactical move to cast the combination duo of Russell Brand-Helen Mirren in the old roles of Dudley Moore-John Gielgud was somewhat inspired it doesn’t change the fact that his Arthur is trim and tame in comparison.
The lanky physicality of Brand’s Arthur does contrast noticeably with Moore’s short and disheveled stature. Anyhow, the bouncy Arthur is off and running into silly situations as he is surrounded by his handlers that includes a caretaker/nanny Hobson (the aforementioned Oscar-winner Helen Mirren) and droopy-faced chauffeur Bitterman (Luis Guzman).
Arthur is an embarrassment to his socialite mother (Geraldine James) as she warns him that his antics are a detriment to his family’s guarded reputation. Mommy Dearest suggests that Arthur become legit and marry stuffy corporate climber Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner) otherwise his holdings to the family fortune may be jeopardized. This notion bothers Arthur as he chooses to play around and drink in free-wheeling fashion.
Enter pretty Grand Central Station tour guide Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig). She’s hard-working and has ambitions of becoming a prominent children’s book writer. Arthur immediately has feelings for this productive woman as she’s in a better shade of promise than the money-making uptight cold fish Susan whom Arthur’s mother wants to have him slip a ring on her fancy finger. Will Arthur get his act together and sober up for the sake of his attraction to Naomi and for the billions of dollars he stands to lose if he continues with his loose cannon routine? Will Arthur choose the self-absorbed Susan he barely recognizes over the humble Naomi that puts a genuine sting in his empty heart? Can Arthur find true happiness overall?
In a nutshell, Arthur feels contrived and goes through the standard motions of a cutesy comedy in search of a water well flowing with wackiness. Brand is on the verge of being notoriously irritating with his high pitched boyish-sounding voice. He’s quite amusing in some instances but much of Brand’s presence may have some wanting to take a long walk off of a short pier. Brand and Mirren work cohesively and have some witty moments that often work its magic. Specifically, Gerwig is winning as the charming working stiff that unexpectedly steals Arthur’s affections.
If you want to toast the madcap shenanigans of the rabble-rouser Arthur then the impishness of Moore’s delightful Oscar-nominated turn as a rambunctious Richie Rich may overshadow the pedestrian pomposity of Brand’s drunken dimwit.