Saturday, April 09, 2011

ARTHUR: Not Completely Artless, But Still Extremely Annoying

ARTHUR (Dir. Jason Winer, 2011)

The one and only improvement that this remake of the fine but slight 1981 Dudley Moore comedy contains is that rich drunken playboy Arthur Bach doesn’t cackle obnoxiously at his own jokes throughout the entire movie.

That’s not to say that Russell Brand isn’t obnoxious in the role, don’t get me wrong. He really is.

Brand's schtick gets increasingly more annoying as the film progresses through its lazily arranged set-pieces, that stick closely to the original’s basic plot points, even recycling key dialogue, and even touches on elements of the 1988 sequel (i.e. Arthur tries to get sober and get a job).

The film does have a handful of decent one-liners mostly in the exchanges between Brand and Helen Mirren as Arthur’s nanny, but they’re not enough to justify this rancid re-imagining.

So Arthur is stuck in the pickle of having to marry a woman he’s not in love with (Jennifer Garner) or else losing his family fortune of $900 million. Indie “it” girl Greta Gerwig gets mixed up in this in the role formerly played by Liza Minnelli, but the character is now an unlicensed NYC tour-guide instead of a shoplifting waitress.

It was an inspired choice, one of the film’s few, to cast the Oscar winning Mirren, in a gender/job title change from butler to nanny, as Hobson, the role that won an Oscar for John Gielgud way back in the day. Her stern and acidic performance really helps the film through some tedious stretches.

Gerwig does good work with what she’s given, but there’s zero chemistry between her and Brand. Her aspiring children’s book author character is just a convention, and the film really isn’t very interested in her. Nor Garner, whose part is pretty insulting especially in the film’s worst bit – a sitcom-style bedroom scene that has the actress in a metal corset stuck to the bottom of Brand’s magnetic bed.

For some reason Nick Nolte appears as Garner’s grizzled father, and I don’t think I’ve seen him invested less in a part. Ditto Geraldine James as Brand’s disapproving mother, a thankless role in a movie full of them.

None of those other roles matter, of course, because it’s Brand’s show. He gets to slosh around doing wacky things like dressing up as Batman with his chauffeur (an extremely mis-used Luis Guzmán) as Robin leading the police in a high-speed chase in the Batmobile, drive the BACK TO THE FUTURE Delorean (he collects movie cars, you see), and strut down the street wearing President Lincoln’s top hat, coat, and cane he just purchased at an auction.

Unfortunately none of this is very funny, and Brand can be funny (see FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and bits of GET HIM TO THE GREEK), but this role which I admit looked good on paper, is just too broad, too obvious, and much too irritating to elicit genuine laughter. It’s just too painfully apparent and Brand just simply doesn’t have the ginormous charm that Dudley Moore had – I mean, the original was a vehicle completely built around that charm.

ARTHUR '11 is such a predictable conventional modernized rehash, that I’m surprised there wasn’t a remix of the theme song from the original (Christopher Cross’s “Arthur’s Theme ‘Best That You Can Do’”) with a well known hip hop artist rapping over it about his billionaire boy Arthur and how he rolls.

BTW this new ARTHUR does feature the inevitable cover of “Arthur’s Theme” by Fitz and the Tantrums, which now joins the film it graces in the bulging file of unnecessary remakes.

More later...

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