Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren & Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Winer
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes
Release date April 8, 2011
Money can buy a lot of things, but love isn’t one of them.
As changeless and timeless as that pearl of wisdom appears to be, Hollywood nonetheless keeps returning to it, polishing it over and over, giving it a new shine for a new audience.
In Arthur, British bad-boy comedian Russell Brand plays an eccentric, stinking rich New York bachelor faced with tough marching orders: Get married to a social-climbing shrew he doesn’t love, or kiss his nearly billion-dollar inheritance bye-bye.
As the irresponsible, spoiled boozehound Arthur Bach, Brand steps into the role made famous by another British actor, Dudley Moore, in the original Arthur back in 1981. Jennifer Garner, a usually likeable actress, is tasked with the thankless role of Susan, the altogether unlikeable upper-crust bride-in-waiting who has her matrimonial sights locked on Arthur’s sizeable nest egg.
Helen Mirren is Hobson, Arthur’s no-nonsense British nanny, doing her best to make sure his immature antics don’t upset his stern mother, who’ll do whatever it takes—including disenfranchising her only son—to protect the rigid corporate image of the family’s financial empire.
Greta Gerwig plays Naomi, the waifish commoner who captures Arthur’s heart, jeopardizing his fortune and his future. And Nick Nolte is perfectly cast as Susan’s gruff real-estate mogul father, an intimidating mountain of a man who makes it perfectly, painfully clear what will happen to Arthur if he doesn’t walk down the aisle with his daughter.
Other than Hobson now being a woman (Sir John Gielgud was nominated for a supporting-role Oscar for his portrayal of the long-suffering butler in the original), the plot is basically a carbon copy of the 1981 version, only considerably bawdier, and with more crude humor than clever charm.
Dudley Moore’s Arthur may have been a stumbling, word-slurring drunk, but at least you really felt for him and wanted him to soar above his circumstances. Brand, whose brash, hedonistic, say-anything style was well suited to the roles he played in Saving Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, never connects here to the deeper emotions the movie wants us to feel as Arthur tries to mend his party-hearty ways, give up the bottle, react to another character’s health crisis and ultimately make a choice that will change his life forever, one way or another.
You’ll laugh; Brand’s a funny guy. But he has real trouble when he tries to spread his dramatic wings into any moment that doesn’t land on a punch line. His randy brand of humor seems like something best served as seasoning, not a full course.
At just under two hours, this Arthur is a comedic endurance test, a relentless pummeling that feels like an assault with someone else’s funny bone.