Movie Review: Arthur (2011)


Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in Arthur
Photo: Warner Bros.

I’m not going to compare this film to the original, because honestly, who cares? It’s not as if there are raving Dudley Moore fans out there hoping Warner Bros. hasn’t commissioned a stinker of a remake to the 20-year-old film that magically won two Oscars and is probably best known for its Christopher Cross-led theme song. There are people probably wondering way WB decided this remake was a good idea at all, which is actually a good question, but altogether useless at this point.

Russell Brand’s take on Arthur doesn’t do much more than its predecessor other than bring the film into the Aughts, which I guess is to say the sexual innuendos are more upfront and the pop culture references are more apparent. Even still, I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. Brand’s Arthur Bach is still incredibly rich, incredibly drunk and borderline mental. The latter fact is probably the most irksome of the three since we are asked to believe a reasonable woman would fall in love with him and the film never takes the antics so over the top that we are able to fully invest in his childish, alcohol infused world and forgive all flaws in logic.

The story still remains one where Arthur is given an ultimatum by his mother to either marry a hand-picked corporate exec (Jennifer Garner) in exchange for his monetary freedom or be cut-off entirely, forced to make his own way. The decision for Arthur, at first, is simple. He’ll keep the money and deal with the girl. But money isn’t everything he’ll soon learn once Naomi (Greta Gerwig) walks into his life. Arthur must soon decide between true love and financial freedom and I’ll give you one guess which one he chooses.

Joining the film, as if it would be too much to stray too far from the original, Helen Mirren plays Arthur’s nanny Hobson, a role that won John Gielgud an Oscar. As only a dignified dame would, Mirren gets to deliver a few words of wisdom before putting on a Darth Vader mask and asked to say, “Wash your winky” for a forced laugh. Beyond that she’s just a crotchety thorn in the film’s side, adding very little and wasted in a role that’s taken too seriously.

As for Brand, I like to see him unhinged, closer to his Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall performances than I do with anything here. Nick Nolte shoving his hand between Brand’s legs as he heaves him atop a horse isn’t funny to me. I can see where it might entertain a child, but then the PG-13 rating gets in the film’s way. I did get a laugh at Arthur’s “Lincoln stick” line, which is one of a few one-liners that hit home throughout, but overall it was a bit too tame and by the numbers.

Gerwig, though, fits her role as Naomi, a caring, mild-mannered young woman with few needs in life who ends up trapped by Arthur’s spell. Naomi does make the most of the situation, learning how to express herself, which seems to always be the case anytime one character displays abnormal behavior in movies. It’s either they are care free and inspiring or they’re a serial killer, the latter of which may be a good idea for the sequel if the WB attempts to burn this one from both ends.

Jason Winer is making his feature directing debut with Arthur after a series of TV gigs, including several episodes of “Modern Family”. It’s really a hard film to determine what kind of talent Winer has as the script does him no favors. The amount of sex-related jokes and alcohol indulgence implies an adult-themed feature, but then the goofs are aimed more toward children. It’s hard for a director to find a voice when he’s asked to send mixed messages.

What Arthur boils down to is a movie that’s not so much bad as much as it just “is”. I can look at Arthur and say it exists. I can say I saw it and that it didn’t offend me. I made my way through it and by the time I was done I got up and left, repeated a funny line or two with a friend and then dreaded how I would get across my ho-hum opinion in a review and fill the necessary word count. To be honest, I’m not sure I accomplished my goal, but perhaps for a film of this nature that’s just about right.