Director: Jason Winer
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Russell Brand goes at it full throttle playing the childlike, alcoholic, party animal, tail-chasing multimillionaire in Arthur, a remake of a pretty much classic 30-year-old romantic comedy that helped make a household name out of Dudley Moore. The basic storyline of this new spin, from TV director Jason Winer (Modern Family), is mostly the same as the Oscar-winning original written and directed by the late Steve Gordon. After too many mornings-after and reputation-damaging headlines, Arthur is given a choice: either marry a steely fellow millionaire (Jennifer Garner) or else be cut off from the family fortune. In his reluctant march to the altar, he’s bowled over by a straight-talking poor girl from Queens, New York (Greta Gerwig in the Liza Minnelli role) who helps turn his life around.
Where the original Arthur was a witty, sweet, surprisingly effective throwback to 1930s screwball comedy, this one’s balloon-light cheeriness is tackled and dragged down by too many nods to PC-friendliness, realism and tired pop cultural references to Batman and Star Wars. Scenes involving Alcoholics Anonymous, self help-y nonsense and talk about the economic recession don’t help, either. The heartbeat of the 1981 flick was the relationship between Arthur and his sour, brilliantly acid-tongued manservant, played to Oscar-winning perfection by John Gielgud. This time, the role gets a sex change and it’s Helen Mirren as Brand’s nanny. Wonderfully expert as she is, as good as chemistry is with Brand, Mirren, working from Peter Baynham’s overly sentimental script, doesn’t have lines anywhere near as witheringly funny. What’s more the role has been made mushy and soft.
The indie darling Gerwig (Greenberg) is blandly sweet as the poor girl and a strident Garner at least appears to be having fun as the cruel, calculating fiancée. Brand—clearly the love child of Johnny Depp and Keith Richards—gives the fluffy, forgettable movie massive energy. Although his gear-loose, party guy style fits the role, Brand’s stamp on Arthur is good for some mild laughs but not much else.
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.