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With: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Geraldine James, Luis Guzmán, Nick Nolte, Christina Calph, Murphy Guyer, José Ramón Rosario, John Hodgman, Scott Adsit, Evander Holyfield, Peter Van Wagner, Robert Clohessy
Written by: Peter Baynham, based on a story by Steve Gordon
Directed by: Jason Winer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references
Running Time: 110
Date: 04/08/2011

Arthur (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

On the Rocks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In this age of remakes somebody had the idea that the funny, English actor Russell Brand, with his usual portrayal of wild and crazy party guys, sort of fit the role that the funny, English Dudley Moore played in the original Arthur (1981). It's sort of an interesting idea, but as actually fleshed out by screenwriter Peter Baynham (Borat) and director Jason Winer (making his feature debut), the movie lands with a big thud; whatever was inherently funny about the original film just doesn't work here.

I saw the original film many times as a kid and it made me laugh a great deal. I have no idea how well it would hold up today, especially given its dramatic subplot, but it does have the advantage of a good, 97-minute pace. The new film runs 110 minutes, which is only 13 minutes longer, but it makes a difference.

Additionally, and I can only guess at this, but Moore was a good deal smaller than Brand and he seems a bit more harmless. Brand plays a good-natured Arthur, but he's more mischievous and a bit less trustworthy; it's harder to get behind him. This Arthur also -- if memory serves -- sleeps with more women, more flagrantly. Not that any of this is a problem, but the first film worked because of a delicate balance, and this remake isn't quite as delicate.

As the story begins, the wealthy, drunken playboy Arthur -- who believes in spending his money on lots of booze and fun -- gets himself in trouble one too many times as his more responsible mother (Geraldine James) tries to manage the family business. His antics kill an important deal, so it's decided that he will marry the very upright Susan (Jennifer Garner). If he refuses, he will lose his inheritance. He agrees.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, he meets the quirky free-spirit Naomi (Greta Gerwig), who gives unlicensed tours of Grand Central Station and is writing a children's book. She's of course charming and delightful and seems to really understand Arthur, and they form an instant bond. So Arthur must choose between the money and true love. Guiding him at all times is his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren); Hobson was a butler in the original, played by John Gielgud, and Mirren has some big shoes to fill (Gielgud won an Oscar for his performance). But she pulls off the same dry, witty delivery and gets most of the movie's few laughs.

Another part of the problem aside from the balance, rhythm and timing is that the movie takes Arthur's drinking very seriously, a sign of the times. Way back when, movies could make jokes about funny drunks and get away with it. Now he must go to AA meetings and renounce his drinking altogether before he can be worthy of the girl; it's much harder to laugh at Arthur's partying with this serious, concerned tone hanging over everything.

Luis Guzmán turns up as the chauffeur Bitterman, and Nick Nolte plays Susan's dangerous father, but neither actor is given much to do. The entire movie is just a little too slow and too safe. It's such a hard story to pull off that even Moore failed to do it a second time with a much-hated sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988). Maybe that should have been a sign to leave the whole thing alone.

Warner Home Video's new two-disc release is a hybrid with a DVD, a digital copy and a Blu-Ray disc. Extras include a brief featurette about improvisation on the set, some deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

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