- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Will Harris
atching Hollywood try to transform Russell Brand into as significant a box office draw in the United States as he is in his native United Kingdom is as thrilling as any amusement park ride.
Not only is Brand in possession of a quick, rapier-sharp wit, but due to his careful choice of words and unconventional delivery, he’s often halfway into his next joke before you’ve realized quite how hysterical the previous joke was. Unfortunately, he’s also scruffy, gawky, and so unabashedly British that you’d expect him to be as unmarketable to the average American as Eddie Izzard. Instead, Brand defied the odds against him, pulling such buzz from playing rocker Aldous Snow in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” that Universal promptly gave the character his own movie (“Get Him to the Greek”), which went on to earn more than $88 million at the box office. Now, Warner Brothers has given him the title role in a remake of “Arthur.” Surely this is where the runner stumbles, isn’t it?
Well, it remains to be seen how moviegoers will respond to the film, but from this vantage point, director Jason Winer’s take on the 1981 Dudley Moore classic is remarkably successful. This really shouldn’t come as a tremendous surprise to anyone who’s seen Brand on one of his many talk show appearances or during his opening monologue when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” Forever mischievous and seemingly unable to maintain his concentration for more than a few moments at a stretch, Brand may not be quite as much of a man-child as millionaire playboy Arthur Bach, but it’s hard not to see a general resemblance between the character and Brand’s real-life persona.
For those unfamiliar with the original film, the premise is a simple one. Arthur’s filthy rich, but when his woefully immature ways put the future of the family business in jeopardy, his mother (Geraldine James) gives him an ultimatum: marry the personally horrible but socially outstanding Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner) or lose his $950 million inheritance. Unwilling to give up the life of luxury which he has understandably come to adore, Arthur relents to his mother’s demands and begrudgingly asks Susan to take his hand in marriage…which, of course, is right about the time he meets Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig), the blue-collar cutie whom he instantly decides is the true love of his life.
Helping Arthur through life – because he really is quite helpless, you know – is his nanny, Hobson, played to stern, sarcastic perfection by Helen Mirren. Indeed, with or without the character’s change in gender from the original film, it’s hard to imagine anyone else quite so successfully filling John Gielgud’s shoes. (Pay attention whenever Arthur mocks Hobson by imitating her: the reason she says he doesn’t sound anything like her is because he’s clearly doing a Gielgud impression.)
The idea of a 21st century remake of “Arthur” seemed rather fraught with the potential for disaster. Would they play down the character’s alcoholism in these far too politically-correct times of ours? Thankfully, they did no such thing: he’s soused from the get-go. Would they try to go low-brow in an attempt to appeal to today’s lowlier comedic sensibilities? If anything, they’ve gone in the opposite direction, allowing Brand to regularly deliver lines which, based on our advance screening, will only tickle the funny bone of the more highbrow members of the audience. (There was only a smattering of laughter when Arthur responds to claims that he’s an idiot with the so-brilliant-I-had-to-write-it-down retort, ''I don't consider it to be idiocy, but a savantish gift for defying death with fun!'')
Beyond Brand and Mirren, the rest of the cast of “Arthur” is only just okay. Gerwig is certainly cute enough to make most men’s hearts go pitter-pat, but she lacks the presence to make you believe that a man would give up $950 million to spend the rest of their life with her. Ironically, the only reason the premise works is because Garner plays Susan as such a loathsome woman that the idea of having to marry her that, okay, you just might give up $950 million to avoid it. Luis Guzman is funny enough as Arthur’s clueless chauffeur, but it’s a one-joke character. As for Nick Nolte, who plays Garner’s father in the film, he never manages to live up to his introduction, but, man, it’s a great introduction.
“Arthur” didn’t need to be remade, but it has been, and as the results are hilarious, perhaps it’s best if we simply lean back, have a drink, and enjoy the fun. Fans of the original can sneer all they want, but this is about as good as we could have hoped for and serves as the perfect showcase for Brand’s, uh, brand of comedy.