Mark Reviews Movies

ARTHUR (2011)

˝ Star (out of 4)

Director: Jason Winer

Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Geraldine James, Luis Guzmán, Nick Nolte

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 4/8/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 7, 2011

Arthur Bach, the continually drunk, millionaire playboy who lives life as a kid but without the hassle of chores, must have at least a little bit of charm, right? Otherwise, he just becomes an obnoxious alcoholic with whom one would barely want to share a short elevator ride—let alone the time span of a feature length movie—right?

That is the problem with Arthur, a remake of Seth Gordon's 1981 comedy of the same name that had its own set of problems—problems that pale in comparison to this vapid, updated version. The updates, mainly concerning Arthur's spoiled lifestyle in the face of overwhelming economic hardship (and his lack of recognition thereof), might have led to some sort of timeliness.

After introducing this Arthur as the heir apparent to a major company that does something or other and the possible head of its philanthropic foundation, a reporter asks him about the perception of his frivolous spending in such times as these. His response: He crosses the street to an ATM, takes out a wad of cash, and throws it into the gathered crowd, shouting, "The recession is over!"

Peter Baynham's screenplay is a smug repetition of this theme, full of intolerable characters featured in insufferable situations, that throws away any awareness of reality or the tenets of comedy. If Dudley Moore's Arthur Bach overloaded us with one-liners, Russell Brand's interpretation underwhelms us with seemingly improvised riffs on whatever is standing right in front of him.

Standing in front of Arthur at the start of this dead weight is the Batmobile (Look, it was on the Warner lot, and someone had to use it), the first of a string of offhand pop culture references that are there because, well, Baynham's script is painfully lazy (Jason Winer's direction, which lacks even a basic understanding of shot setup, isn't much better). The DeLorean from Back to the Future shows up later, and when Hobson (Helen Mirren, trying against all hope to infuse something resembling class into the material) is lying sick in the hospital (a development that is held until as late as possible, turning it into the whimpering manipulation Gordon's movie did such a fine job making us forget it was), Arthur convinces her to put on a Darth Vader mask. There is no point to any of these gags; they exist as patent comedy filler.

He, dressed as Batman, and his driver (Luis Guzmán), dressed as Robin, crash the car into the bull statue near Wall Street, its bronze testicles placed right at Arthur's eyelevel for the effect of having a set of bronze Rocky Mountain oysters in his face. The point of all this futile attempt at madcap being that Arthur is like a little boy alone with all the toys in the world, though not as sad about the whole being alone thing this time.

His mother (Geraldine James) wants him to marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), the daughter of another powerhouse financial family (Her father is played by Nick Nolte, whose least embarrassing moment comes when his arm is riddled with nails after Arthur plays pretend with a pneumatic tool). If he does not agree to the match, he will lose his part of the family fortune (adjusted for inflation to just short of a billion dollars). Just when he's prepared to give up his ideal of marrying for love to maintain his wealth, he meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), who gives unofficial and illegal tours of Grand Central Station for a living but really wants to be a children's book author.

Theirs is a dopey affair, begun with Arthur feigning they are engaged for the cops, so they don't arrest her. Of course, they already know who he is, so it's only a con meant to allow Brand to go on and on about their imaginary first date, which he later replicates to a T, with acrobats, customized candy dispensers, and all. They have a late night talk about dead parents and dreams. Gerwig, like Mirren, at least resembles a sympathetic human being, though we really wish her and Arthur's story would end before the six-months-later coda—an ending that, while breaking with formula, would at least be a happy one.

There is plenty about which to be embarrassed in Arthur, from the forced tension of putting both Susan (who ends up stuck to his magnetic bed—don't ask) and Naomi in Arthur's apartment at the same time to an attempt to torment Arthur by making him ride on a horse at a slow trot. It is wretchedly unfunny stuff, and apologies should be issued post haste to any surviving member of the original's cast and crew and the families of those no longer with us.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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