This review was originally posted on Andrew’s blog I Can’t Get Laid in This Town.
Much like the original Arthur with Dudley Moore from 1980, director Jason Winner’s Russell Brand starring remake is a film perfectly befitting of it’s main character. It is a film that coasts by so effortlessly on the charm and wit of the actor at the centre of it, that it is a hard film to dislike. It also really isn’t that great of a film, and much like the billionaire, alcoholic playboy at the heart of the film, it has a lot of problems that are either never addressed or are dealt with too late in the film to have much of an impact. It isn’t word for word like the original, which is fine since the original is a classic only because of Dudley Moore and John Gielgud, but the updating doesn’t do a heck of a lot for the film in the plus column.
After getting arrested for drunkenly joy-riding around New York City in the Joel Schumacher era Batmobile, Arthur (Brand) is given an ultimatum by his mother (Geraldine James): marry her business partner/his ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) to save the face of her investment funds or lose out on his almost one billion dollar inheritance. Complications arise when Arthur has a random encounter with an illegal NYC tour guide and aspiring kiddie author (Greta Gerwig) and becomes smitten. Arthur attempts to prove to everyone that he can make it in the world on his own with absolutely no work or real world experience, but he can’t stop drinking long enough to hold a single thought for five minutes, let alone a job. Assisting him in his day to day operations as a drunken layabout are his nanny/butler Hobson (Helen Mirren) and his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman).
Speaking of holding a thought for five minutes, now would be a good time to say that I rarely take notes during movies. I will take notes on a film that I think is somewhat deep or complex, but Arthur is decidedly not one of those films. In hindsight, I wish I had at least taken stock of some of the jokes because I do remember laughing quite heartily at several of them. Five minutes after leaving the theatre, I couldn’t remember a single one. I vaguely recalled a few situations and happenings in the film, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember why any of them were funny. The wit on display in Arthur is (somewhat appropriately) of the drunken party wit variety; the kind of jokes that are funny when mildly intoxicated but are looked back upon only as “that one time that funny thing happened.”
Further souring the case for Arthur is some grossly incompetent direction from Winner. Scenes are always being cut abruptly short to the point where they almost go nowhere at all, followed by a transitioning shot of the same skyscraper. The exterior of Arthur’s apartment building is glimpsed at least a dozen times for no reason other than to remind the audience that they are going back to the apartment. Winner also has a real love for random insert shots of items that have no real purpose and one can’t help but wonder how none of this ended up on the cutting room floor.
But if there is one reason to see the film, it is Brand, who single-handedly carries the film on his back even when it is at it’s worst. As the titular playboy who is easy to love and hard to hate, he also makes the film hard to outwardly hate as a result. Mirren fares well, but her character has been so botched in translation from the original film that by the time the audience has to care about what happens to Hobson, she has already acted so outwardly and irredeemably bitchy that there is no way to transition the audience for the tonal shift. At least Brand and Mirren play well off each other. Gerwig does a fine job in the role made famous by Liza Minelli, but again, the character has been neutered to the point of just being another “manic pixie dream girl.” Garner gets to show her comedic chops in one fairly memorable sequence involving a magnetic bed and two bottles of wine, but her character is mostly just a superfluous waste for the sake of having a villain with a face. There will be no comment made about how terrible Nick Nolte is in a small role as Garner’s father. Words just can’t describe how little that man gives a fuck about being in this film.
To a less discerning viewer, one who doesn’t really pay close attention to what is going on and simply wants to watch Russell Brand act like a fool for 110 minutes, Arthur is positively intoxicating. Please be reminded that too much, however, can leave behind a nasty hangover. Thankfully, Arthur seems to quit while it is moderately ahead. Brand makes it work when not much else in it does. I will toast to him for pulling it off, but I would need the booze in the glass to make it through the film a second time.
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