THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Because every movie deserves to be judged on its own merits, I really wanted to review the remake of Arthur without mentioning the original. But I find I can't do that for a very simple reason: it's as though the filmmakers looked at everything that worked about the original and said, Yeah, let's not do that. One wonders why time and effort was put into this sorry wannabe, considering that maintaining the tone of the source material clearly wasn't of much interest to anyone. The film hits DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack on July 15.
Russell Brand takes on the role of Arthur Bach, made famous in the 1981 original by Dudley Moore. In that film, Arthur was a drunken millionaire who stumbled through life in a drunken fog and avoided responsibility like the plague. Although perpetually intoxicated, he was lovable in Moore's hands, a sweet-natured lush whose alcoholism belied a sense of innocence. Brand's Arthur is a man-child who likes dressing up as Batman and sleeping on a bed made of magnets. He never really seems drunk, but rather more like the obnoxious lampshade-on-the-head guy you really want to avoid standing next to at a party. On the surface, Brand would seem a natural for the role, yet he doesn't appear to be as interested in playing Arthur Bach as he does in playing Russell Brand, Big Time Comedian. He mugs at the camera and carries on incessantly, all to no avail. The odd thing is that, as outrageous as the character can be, he requires a degree of restraint. Arthur needs to be believably outrageous. Brand takes it as a license to go hog wild, thereby crushing any sense of relatability the story might be trying to achieve.
The plot is really the only similarity between the two films. In both, Arthur is forced into an arranged engagement, lest he be cut off from his fortune, but he's really in love with someone else. Jennifer Garner plays the gold digger who wants to marry him for the family business, while Greta Gerwig (Greenberg) plays the penniless sweetheart Arthur yearns to be with. Neither relationship is particularly convincing. Garner plays her character as a one-dimensional villainess, so that you never for a second think Arthur will end up with her. Gerwig, on the other hand, brings some of the offbeat likeability that has made her an indie darling, yet her scenes with Brand mostly consist of her giggling at his forced lunacy.
The best thing about the original Arthur was Hobson the butler, played to perfection by Sir John Gielgud. For the remake, they've brought in the estimable Helen Mirren. She lends a veneer of class that is otherwise completely missing. Even so, she isn't given a lot to do. While Mirren delivers some bon mots with crack timing, her Hobson never gets the chance to influence Arthur the way Gielgud's Hobson did. She's a compelling character in search of something to do.
I haven't seen Arthur in years. Who knows - maybe it doesn't hold up. As I remember things, though, it was smart, and it had a soul. This remake is constantly shooting to be a big, broad, goofy comedy. That would have been fine, except that when you choose to remake something that is generally well-regarded, there's a certain responsibility to the audience to adhere to the tone, even if trying to introduce some new twists. Arthur may be passable for people who never saw the original, but if you have seen the Dudley Moore version, you're better off sticking with that one.
( 1/2 out of four)
Arthur will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray Combo Pack on July 15. It will also be available for rent on demand through digital cable, satellite TV, and IPTV. You can purchase it for permanent download or rent it on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles.
The bonus features on the Blu-Ray start with "Arthur Unsupervised," a montage of Russell Brand improvisations that weren't used in the final cut. Some of them would have pushed the flick over to an R rating. This seven-minute segment proves what the movie suggests: that director Jason Winer was too in love with Brand's improvs, and allowed him to do whatever he wanted, rather than playing a character whose presence was organic to the story. A few of Brand's antics earn chuckles when taken out of the context of watching a movie, but it's clear that a consistent tone was never decided upon during production.
A few minutes of deleted scenes don't offer much beyond a little more of Luis Guzman as Arthur's driver, and a gag reel is only mildly funny.
Arthur is rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content and some drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.