When Arthur first made an appearance as a frothy little rom-com - 30 years ago to be precise - Dudley Moore lushed it up in the title role of the perpetually inebriated playboy, leaving John Gielgud to steal the picture, not to mention an Oscar, as the drunk's devoted and long-suffering and oh-so-caustically witty butler. Apparently, somebody thought it was time for a remake. Clearly, somebody was dead wrong.
Not content with merely ripping off the original, this version strives for innovation by engaging in a bit of gender-bending. The slim plot is basically the same, albeit cleaned up for the more conservative tastes of today's family audience. Once more, Arthur must choose between the sprightly gal of his dreams and the corporate barracuda foisted on him by his chairman of the board mother. Pick real love and Arty will lose his fat inheritance. The aforementioned bend has Hobson the butler morphing into Hobson the nanny, a change that proves wonderfully instructive. In fact, along the way, we're offered many valuable lessons in how to ruin what used to be a perfectly innocuous and often hilarious comedy. Here are just a few of them.
No. 1 Cast Russell Brand as Arthur. Admittedly, at first blush, this seems like a splendid idea. After all, Brand is an amusing fellow and demonstrated in Forgetting Sarah Marshall that he too can steal a picture in a subordinate role. Maybe that's why, as the star here, he seems determined not to have any such theft happen on his watch. So the guy hogs the screen and the dialogue, improvising his way through a script that clearly needs his help. Trouble is, his improvs are always scattershot and often desperate - a few hit, most miss.
No. 2 In keeping with our more infantilized culture, make Arthur less a drunk than a child. Inflate his fortune - it's up to $950-million - and then inflate his toys, showing what money can buy the modern man-child. Seems it can buy the actual Batmobile, a magnetized bed that floats in midair, the power to evacuate Grand Central station for a dinner party with Pez candy as the main course and a side helping of flying acrobats. Wow. Now if only money could buy a screenwriter to make any of this remotely funny.
No. 3 Cast Helen Mirren as the nanny. Again, a great choice on the surface, yet not when this distaff Hobson is robbed of any sarcastic edge and smoothed into Arthur's moral conscience. Of course, a conscience is many fine things, but caustically witty it ain't. Poor Helen. Feasting on wicked lines, Gielgud won the Oscar. Force-fed this diet of goodness, Mirren looks like she just lost her lunch.
No. 4 Completely waste Greta Gerwig as the romantic interest. As was abundantly evident in Greenberg, the camera loves her near-wholesome, almost-beautiful looks - she's like the girl next door to the girl next door. But here, as if to prove likes attract, Gerwig is reduced to the same childish status as Brand, just another kid but without the booze.
No. 5 Inflate the running time along with that fortune, thereby affording ample opportunity to pad with lots of clunky set pieces and an aging star or two. Like Nick Nolte. Briefly, he pops up as the barracuda's father, a burly contractor not just tough as nails but full of nails. Literally - the guy's punctured with them. To what end? Far as I can make out, to allow Brand to stare at the protruding spikes and improvise this: "It made a hero out of Jesus."
No. 6 Know that this tiny brush with heresy is the funniest line in the movie and have faith that, even in the lame case of the resurrected Arthur, Jesus saves.
- Directed by Jason Winer
- Written by Peter Baynham
- Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig
- Classification: PG
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