Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jason Winer
Stars: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Geraldine James, Jennifer Garner, Jill Eikenberry, Luiz Guzman.
At the start of the early 80’s, British comic Dudley Moore had something of a purple patch with his movie roles. First there was his scene stealing antics in a supporting role in the comic thriller Foul Play. Then there was his role as a philanderer obsessed with Bo Derek in Blake Edwards’ 10. And of course there was his signature role as Arthur, the drunken millionaire playboy who had to make the choice between an arranged marriage and retaining his inheritance, or giving it all up for love. That film played to Moore’s strengths, and it worked well enough that one wonders why it was considered necessary to remake it thirty years later.
Here the role has been revamped to suit the brash and childish screen persona of Russell Brand, a comic whose style is often grating, as in his recent role as obnoxious rock star Aldous Snow in Get Him To The Greek. In this version, the basic plot details remain much the same. Arthur has essentially been raised by his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren), and is something of a child in a man’s body, given to excessive partying and childish antics.
His mother (Geraldine James) has grown tired of his antics, especially as they now threaten her chances of gaining some important investors for the powerful family company she runs. She threatens to cut off Arthur’s inheritance unless he marries socialite Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), whose father owns one of the largest construction companies on the East Coast. Susan is a predatory social climber, and has little in common with Arthur. Reluctantly he agrees to the marriage purely so he can keep his money. But then he meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a part time tourist guide and aspiring author, and it’s love at first sight. Arthur then faces a dilemma, and is forced to grow up in a hurry.
First time director Jason Winer (best known for his work on tv series Modern Family) handles the material efficiently enough. There are a few good moments throughout, although the humour lacks that topical and cutting edge of his television work. The producers have even managed to include a reworked version of the Oscar winning theme song from the original.
The cast seems to have enjoyed themselves immensely here. And Winer seems to know when to let Brand run with his usual manic energy, and he seems to be having a ball here, dominating nearly every scene with his unique brand of humour. Garner is much more predatory and sexually aggressive than Jill Eikenberry in the original, and makes the most of her few scenes. Gerwig is charming and appealing as the poor, naive Naomi. Nick Nolte is wasted in a small and thankless role as Susan’s gruff unforgiving father. Luiz Guzman contributes some nice moments as Arthur’s sympathetic chauffeur.
Stepping into the role originally essayed with droll humour by John Gielgud in his Oscar winning turn, Mirren lends authority to her role as Hobson, but it’s clear she is slumming it here. However, there seems to be a genuine rapport between Brand and Mirren that adds to the film. (The pair can also be seen in the upcoming The Tempest, Julie Taymor’s imaginative adaptation of the Shakespeare play, which has a completely different feel to it.)
On the positive side, this revamped version of Arthur is better than the dire sequel Arthur 2, a lazy, dreadfully unfunny comedy, which typified Moore’s later career slump.