Whether or not you’re going to take any enjoyment away from Arthur is a simple question of how much, if at all, do you like Russell Brand? If you can confidently say that you loathe Brand and his (ahem) brand of eloquently punk-rock comedy, then there’s little here to draw you in. Though it never dips into the realm of the insulting, Arthur is about as rote as romantic comedies get and has little to offer beyond the charm of its main character. If you’re like me and enjoy Brand, then you’re still not likely to be impressed, but you’ll also not be checking your watch and wishing that it was over for two hours.
In this remake of the well-regarded Dudley Moore comedy, Brand plays Arthur as an intelligent and captivating heir to a mega-fortune who hides in plain site as an alcoholic man-child. Stuck in an immature rut of partying and general deviance, he’s watched over by his nannie Hobson, played here by Helen Mirren. Arthur’s mother, who runs the corporation that is the source of their vast wealth, grows impatient with Artur’s antics and offers him an ultimatum- he must marry her executive protege as a family image-strengthening move, or be cut off. Arthur is decidedly not attracted to Susan, the woman in question, and furthermore falls for a quirky, charming, and charmingly poor tour guide.
Right away it should be noted that amidst this obvious story and all the expected nonsense that comes with it, the strength of the film is a genuine chemistry between Mirren and Brand. While the relationship is not always served by the script, the two actors share a rhythmic energy that drives the film- like a beating heart. Mirren is more than comfortable keep up with Brand, and brings a sharp wit of her own amongst all the sternness. It’s a legitimately satisfying detail when you catch on to the fact that for all her straight-facedness, Arthur’s surrogate mother is clearly the source of his wry wit and latent intelligence.
It’s also not a stretch for Brand to play a role that requires him to be simultaneously immature, vulgar, oversexed, drunk, and superbly well-spoken. Anyone who has actually judged Brand on his body of comedy (and not bullshit gossip column stuff) knows that his stand-up and film persona has so far been that of a full on delinquent rock star that layers a well-read polish over constantly conflicting self-deprecation and cockiness– Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka meets 80s Eddie Murphy, if you will. As Arthur, Brand actually tones himself down a great deal and patterns his performance to the tone of the film, even if it is still definitively his comedic approach that drives the movie. He deserves a lot of credit for this role, and consistently outshines a script that is neither imaginative nor incompetent.
If there’s any outright failure in Arthur, it’s how woefully wasted Luiz Guzman finds himself. Despite a decent rapport with Brand (though Brand works better bouncing off squares rather than retarded people) , Guzman has virtually no memorable material to work with, and isn’t essential enough to the story to be a part of any emotional catharsis during the big cheesy ending. Guzman is an amazing talent, but the character could have easily been replaced by a dog that makes cute expressions when Arthur does something silly. Nick Nolte is another bit of stunt casting, but he’s there to be batshit insane and who does that better than Nolte?
Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner both acquit themselves well enough as the love interest and love disinterest respectively. Gerwig is asked to play quirky and does so, and does so well enough that Arthur’s at-first-site love may not be so hard to believe. It’s also not difficult to believe that he would want to avoid Garner’s character, as the actress tries to cut loose as the two-dimensional antagonist and just comes across silly and annoying.
It’s a shame this wasn’t a remake with some passionate individual behind the camera, as the pairing of Brand and Mirren is truly inspired, and Arthur himself is about as tailor-made a leading man role for Brand as there ever could be. The script is consistently-chuckle worthy but otherwise completely obvious, and paired with the TV sensibilities of director Jason Winer, it leaves little to digest. It’s not likely that this will do much to hurt or help anyone involved- which may well be a good thing. Brand will likely be best left to smaller roles in films that suit him, while Winer may be better served sticking with TV. There’s nothing embarrassing about this project, but there’s certainly no momentum that’s been created to drive anybody forward. Arthur has enough eccentricity on the surface to be funny, light, and inoffensive, but I wouldn’t expect or hope for an Arthur 2 remake.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars