Russell Brand takes center stage in “Arthur,” a remake of the 1981 comedy of the same name starring Dudley Moore. That film won two Oscars: Supporting Actor for Sir John Gielgud and Best Song for Burt Bacharach.
This film won’t win anything.
Russell Brand has cut an impressive path through movies with outrageous supporting parts like the spacey and irreverent rock star Aldous Snow, who stole enough of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to see his character expanded to a co-starring role in “Get Him to the Greek.”
In his new movie, “Arthur” Brand brings plenty of energy and some better-than-average gags, but whatever laugh potential that might have been is squashed by director Jason Winer.
A TV veteran of such hit shows as “Modern Family,” Winer struggles with his cast, allowing otherwise funny gags to consistently fall flat, eliciting, at best, okay performances in this comedy of noxious dead air.
If you haven’t seen the original, Arthur is a spoiled millionaire who has never bothered to grow up. He is cared for by his nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren) because his mother, (Geraldine James) is too busy running a $900 million company to be a mother. Seeing him unfit to run such an enterprise, she presses him to marry her protégé, the scheming and ambitious Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a more worthy successor.
Arthur falls head over heels for Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an eccentric girl from Queens who looks after her ailing father. This, of course, throws a monkey wrench into Susan’s plan, so she tries to sabotage his relationship with Naomi.
Of course, from her point of view the marriage is only to gain control of the company, so if he agrees to marry her, why shouldn’t she let him see Naomi? Instead, Peter Baynham’s uninspired script has her responding jealously despite the fact she has no real romantic interest in Arthur. It leaves poor Jennifer Gardner without motivation and floundering through her scenes.
In a change from the original, Arthur must attend AA meetings before he can get his life on track. By making him seek help for his addiction, the movie swerves into territory that is almost impossible to play as funny.
The original “Arthur” was released in a time when public drunkenness wasn’t taboo, and the lovable drunk had been a comic staple for decades.
Today, public inebriation is generally deemed unacceptable and a drunken fool elicits concern more than laughter. In short, “Arthur” is a film out of step with the times.
Tone deaf as corporations tend to be, one has to wonder why Warner Bros. would consider the current recession a good time for a comedy about a zillionaire with a drinking problem. It is easy to see how Arthur, despite his issues, could inspire more resentment than amusement.
Helen Mirren is occasionally amusing, sending up English stodginess, and Greta Gerwig is sincere and affable as Naomi, but “Arthur” lives and dies by Russell Brand, who will hopefully get another shot as leading man under better circumstances.
* (out of four)