There was no urgent need to remake the 1981 comedy classic “Arthur.” The legendary Dudley Moore had brought to the role of millionaire alcoholic Arthur Bach all of the assets that could be brought to it. While, the original did suffer a bit for the abominable sequel “Arthur 2: On the Rocks” that alone doesn’t justify attempting a new spin on the original.
Nevertheless, we have an “Arthur” remake in theaters and starring comedian turned actor Russell Brand as the alcoholic, man-child, millionaire Arthur Bach. Brand is well suited for the role being both English, as Dudley Moore was, and having a history of alcohol abuse on which to draw a great deal of inspiration. That doesn’t justify the remake but Brand does make it all quite pleasant.
Russell Brand is ‘Arthur’
Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) is undoubtedly an overgrown child. When we meet Arthur for the first time he is dressed as Batman and planning to attend a black tie function being put on by his mother, Vivian (Geraldine James), arriving in the Batmobile alongside his driver and friend Bitterman (Luis Guzman), dressed as the Boy Wonder.
If you find this scenario charming then you are just the audience for “Arthur” a comedy that will repeatedly reinforce Russell Brand’s man-child qualities through nerd culture signifiers. Later we will see what Arthur says is the original Darth Vader helmet among other pop culture ephemera that Brand’s multi-millionaire character obtains throughout the film in order to remind fans of better movies, earning the good feelings by proxy.
A marriage of convenience
Arthur may be 30 years old but he is still cared for by his childhood nanny Hobson (Dame Helen Mirren), something he justifies by referring to her as his best friend. Hobson is supportive but mostly disdainful of Arthur’s wasted life of whores and copious amounts of alcohol. Hobson is, for a short time, surprisingly in favor of seeing Arthur marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a marriage Arthur sorely hopes to avoid.
Arthur has been instructed to marry Susan by his mother or he will be cut off from the family fortune. Susan’s father (Nick Nolte) threatens to cut off something else entirely should Arthur not go through with the marriage. Arthur seems headed down the aisle until he meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig) an unlicensed tour guide and aspiring children’s book author. They fall for each other immediately but will Arthur give up his fortune for love?
Charming, sarcastic and sugary sweet
Russell Brand charms his way through much of “Arthur” with well timed quips and lighthearted insults. It’s a fun and funny performance well matched with Dame Helen Mirren’s sturdy and often wearyingly sarcastic Hobson and Greta Gerwig’s sugar sweet Naomi. But, these fabulously pleasant performances don’t excuse “Arthur’s” lack of necessity.
There simply remains no reason to have done a remake of “Arthur.” I like Russell Brand and the rest of the cast but each could be doing something more original and constructive instead of going through the motions of someone else’s comedy legend. Director Jason Winer and writer Peter Baynham offer too little that is new here and what little new there is doesn’t make this “Arthur” relevant or unique.
Worth seeing for Russell Brand fans
If you have seen the trailers or commercials for “Arthur” and thought that you’d like to see it then I encourage you to go. You are likely a fan of Russell Brand and his work here is solid. If you are on the fence however, there is nothing in “Arthur” that screams must see.
Wait for the DVD and you will likely be just as satisfied. Or, you could rent the Dudley Moore original and be so delighted that you forget the remake entirely.