Monday, May 9, 2011

Review of Arthur (2011)

It's not that "Arthur" is a bad movie--it's not. But that's exactly why it should have never been made.

Also, Jennifer Garner has to stop being a breath of fresh air in second-rate movies. This is precisely the career path that will lead her to star in an NBC sitcom in three years' time with Kate Hudson and Topher Grace. Please don't let this happen.

By the way, what's Garner's workout routine? Lifting paint cans full of cement between takes? Bench-pressing the craft services table? Aspects must be culled from from Strongman competitions. Her arms and back looked huge in "Arthur."

I'm pretty confident that I could handle all comers in a female actress battle royale, except for Garner and possibly Angela Bassett.

Anyway, this review originally appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with the permission of everyone's favorite redhead, Trina Robba.


Joel and Ethan Coen's inspired, Western noir take on 1969's sappy True Grit demonstrated the cardinal rule of remakes: Make sure the property is in dire need of repair before considering renovation. If a director can't improve the original product, then what's the point of revisiting it?

That question is practically a leitmotiv in the new version of Arthur, a movie so unnecessary that its mere presence is redundant. The 1981 original, starring Dudley Moore as the millionaire man-child title character and John Gielgud as his long-suffering valet, doesn't creak like some older comedies, a testament to director Steve Gordon's charming, crackling screenplay. Rent the movie—it holds up.

But since Gordon, Moore, and Gielgud are all dead—and no one consulted me—we're subjected to the unhinged Russell Brand as the rudderless, fun-loving tycoon. An alcoholic womanizer whose idea of a good time is taking the Batmobile for a joyride around New York, he's a tabloid editor's best friend. If not for Arthur's ever-present nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren), the young man's obituary would have been written years ago.

His mother (Geraldine James), who runs a mega-successful, multi-faced corporation, has had enough. She gives her only child—and heir to the family fortune—an ultimatum: Arthur must marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), an attractive corporate go-getter, or he's cut off. He reluctantly agrees, but the arrangement becomes stifling when Arthur meets the working-class, adorably attired Naomi (Greta Gerwig). There's obviously a connection between the two, but can love triumph over financial security?

I'll give you one guess. The lack of romantic suspense doesn't affect the enjoyment. What kills Arthur 2.0 is that its attempts to shake things up fall so flat. Susan was a minor character in the original. Here she's a shrill, humorless Gordon Gekko in Prada monster whose only function is to make the audience realize whom Arthur should choose. And she has a father (Nick Nolte) who's an overtly threatening, rough-around-the-edges man's man! (Having two pros like Garner and Nolte play such stupid sieves should be a federal violation of some sort.) Mirren is fine as Hobson, but director Jason Winer makes her into a tolerant surrogate mother. The beauty of Gielgud's Oscar-winning performance was that though he stood by his ward, he couldn't stand Arthur.

The only notable improvement from the first film is the casting of Gerwig. Long considered a cinematic breath of fresh air, the Greenberg star steals the movie as Arthur's soul mate. She remains blissfully natural. Some actresses have to huff and puff to reach winsome, but like Amy Adams, Gerwig does it without breaking a sweat.

That brings us to Brand. Moviegoers might remember the manic British comedian for his work as hipster doofus rock star Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the unbearable Get Him to the Greek. Brand is best enjoyed in small doses; he's almost like the comedic version of Daniel Day-Lewis. In Arthur, Brand is in nearly every scene. He isn't annoying, but his character's constantly shifting personality is. One minute, Arthur is witty. The next, he's child-like. Suddenly, he's partying like Charlie Sheen's eager protégé.

It's hard to warm up to an undefined character, and Brand's physical presence makes it even harder. Equipped with the build of a buff scarecrow, a mop of inky black hair, and a gaunt, serious face, he never resembles lovable. Brand looks so much like a professional goofball that he's a stranger in his own movie. This is the wrong kind of showcase for Brand, who can't even convey that underneath Arthur's lavish tomfoolery lies a lonely, miserable man. He's nothing but good times.

Arthur is just a marketing gimmick, a purposeless new spin on an old favorite, like blue ketchup or square bagels. It's not that Arthur is terrible. Thanks to Gerwig and a quip-heavy script, it's sometimes sprightly and fun. Overall, it's OK. But if you're going to remake a borderline comedy classic that's remembered fondly by millions, OK won't cut it. Judging by the movie's lackluster showing at the box office, audiences agree. [PG-13]

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