Lessons From The Weekend: Russell Brand Falls Flat, and Universal Struggles Uphill

The dismal performance of “Arthur” this weekend may just put a bullet in plans to make Brand the next big comedy star on the order of Sacha Baron Cohen

Last Updated: April 11, 2011 @ 7:20 AM

Whose bright idea was it to drag that wacky British comedian Russell Brand over to this side of the pond anyway?

The dismal performance of “Arthur” this weekend may just put a bullet in plans to make Brand the next big comedy star on the order of Sacha Baron Cohen.

That gasping sound you hear are his agents at WME reassessing their options.

Now personally, I love Russell Brand, I really do.

He’s original. He’s zany. He’s fearless (Google some of his antics in England, plus he’s married to Katy Perry).

But it could well be that American audiences don’t get him. At least Baron Cohen had a cable show so people could get used to him before he lay "Borat" on everybody.

This weekend at the box office was a body blow  of $12.6 million.

Read also: Russell Brand Falters With Soft $12.6M for 'Arthur,' But 'Hop' No. 1 With $21.7M

Warner’s – which only recently grew some comedy cojones with “The Hangover” – will wind up taking a loss here. With the title role in “Arthur,” Brand had a shot at proving that he had broad appeal – a risky strategy considering he was taking on the role that defined Dudley Moore’s entire career. And it did a big belly flop.

For a minute Brand looked like he could be on his way to stardom- and heaven knows Hollywood could use some new comedy stars. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the actor was a breath of fresh air, a total unknown channelling the spirit of a self-involved British celebrity with rock-star hair and a penchant for the Kama Sutra.

But that was the same character he played in “Get Him to the Greek” was strikingly similar, and the movie didn’t peform terribly well, despite its apparent charm.  And “Arthur”? My teenager said he was not interested in seeing Brand do the same shtick he already did in “Get Him to the Greek” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” So he went to “Win Win.”

On Twitter, most of the comments I saw were like this from JosiahF: “Super disappointed in Arthur. Russell Brand didn't quite pull off the aardvark look and they completely cut D.W. out of the plot.”

Meanwhile the critics were bru.tal. Some of it was rather personal. Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix wrote: “His appeal escapes me. His big shovel face, Medusa coif, and high-pitched, Geico Gecko-like voice make me uneasy. Moreover, in a stovepipe hat, he looks like Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – who also creeped me out.”

Marshall Fine at the Huffington Post was just as withering: “The guy’s just not that funny,” he wrote. “Particularly not when he assays an entire role in that high, whiny, little-boy voice that he uses here. I’ve seen him do stand-up and that didn’t make me laugh. He’s really only amusing in small doses.”

That high, whiny voice is a big part of Brand’s comic persona. All comedians have shtick. Ricky Gervais does the deadpan Cockney insult; Jack Black leaned heavy on the dweeb wannabe rocker; Will Ferrell did the clueless  ingenue so well they finally gave him “Elf.”

But eventually every shtick does get tired, and  if Brand’s persona is already grating on audiences, that can’t be a good sign.

One blogger leapt to his defense: “The man is a sensational speaker and I want him in large, hilariously-delivered doses,” wrote Lucia Brizzi in The Faster Times. "Brand’s use of language, timing, and stream of consciousness, paired with his incisive ability to connect and daring vulnerability is a gift to the world of comedy."

 It may be a gift, but America does not necessarily seem inclined to open it.

We’ll find out soon enough. Brand is rehearsing to sing in the star-studded Adam Shankman musical “Rock of Ages,” a highly anticipated project with Tom Cruise, among many others.

Tomorrow: the part about Universal struggling uphill. Yes, we know, that they had “Hop,” and that it performed well, and that Brand is in it. But the flop that was “Your Highness” is more indicative of how the struggling studio is going these days. Stay tuned.


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