It’s nearly thirty years to the day since loveable pint-sized comic, Dudley Moore, anarchically charmed his way to an Academy Award nomination as the eponymous playboy billionaire, never far away from a stiff drink. Twice the size with, disappointingly, half the charm, Russell Brand never quite satisfies as the new-look Arthur; a remake that could have easily been billed as Russell.
Brand’s bohemian lifestyle has been the source of many newspaper and magazine pages in recent years; drink, drugs, casual nudity and one-night-stands. On the face of it, then, Brand is perfectly cast with plot points seemingly wrenched from his life-story: drink. Lots of it. Casual nudity. Check. One-night-stands. Plenty. It even mirrors his recent marriage to songstress, Katy Perry when Arthur is given an ultimatum by his Mum (Geraldine James) to marry sensible and appropriate suitor Susan (Jennifer Garner) or else lose his inheritance. Part of the comedy arises from Arthur’s reluctance and subsequent realisation that marriage means spending the rest of his life with the same woman; an observation made in countless interviews with Brand.
This is where the intrigue stops, however. For a remake that, on the page, should work, Arthur never gets going. After a slapstick opening sequence seeing the sozzled billionaire and his chauffeur, Bitterman (Luis Guzman) dressed as Batman and Robin respectively, by the time we meet Naomi (Greta Gerwig), the true object of Arthur’s affections – a relationship that could cost him his millions – and Brand dressed as a giant gummy bear, the film has reached a comedic cul de sac.
Which isn’t to stay there are no laughs. Brand has been good on film in the past. He previously rescued Bedtime Stories and Forgetting Sarah Marshall with his brand of rambling and rambunctious wit and there are moments in Arthur (which he executive produced) that seem to have been lifted straight out of one of his stand-up routines (a notable skit involves Arthur’s distrust of horses and their ‘permanent shoes’). Alas it seems that Brand is better suited to walk-on comic relief roles rather than top-billing. Moore’s Arthur was buffoonish but sincere, Brand’s billionaire is a clown first and foremost.
But all fingers shouldn’t be pointed at Brand for Arthur‘s comic inebriation. Garner, as Arthur’s femme fatale fiance who is marrying him solely for the bucks, is non-existent and Gerwig is a bland replacement to Liza Minnelli. She seems to have graduated from the Zooey Deschanel school of acting. Finally, there’s Helen Mirren as the overgrown schoolboy’s long-suffering nanny. Replacing John Gielgud, Mirren plays Hobson as one half surrogate Mum and the other as a “menopausal Mary Poppins”. Although not quite the post-Oscar win meltdown of a Halle Berry, it is surprising why Mirren would have agreed to take the role. Perhaps she wanted to shake off her monarchical image. With one-liners like, “Don’t forget to clean your winky, Arthur” she marginally succeeds.
Comprised of a ‘rough-around-the-edges’ script and ill-mannered gags, Arthur is fleetingly funny but half an hour too long. Perhaps the producers should have taken heed of Neve Campbell’s advice in Scream 4 the previous week; “the first rule of remakes is to never mess with the original”. Arthur should be left alone to sleep off its hangover.
Good: Brand is funny, but this isn’t the platform to showcase his talents.
Bad: Too long and too uneven to be memorable.