Review: Arthur

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The Pitch: America gets more Brand awareness.

The Review: You wait ages for a Russell Brand film and then two come along at once. Or maybe you don’t; there’s as many people who run screaming at the sight of the scruffy English dandy as who enjoy his schtick, and this remake is an attempt to play on Brand’s particular qualities. He managed to successfully break out of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, getting his own spin-off and it was one that did its best to play to his strengths and his background, allowing him the role of the reforming addict who had a larger than life stage presence. Arthur feels like another attempt to do that, fitting the role to the perception of Brand’s character, but all that serves to do is to show that it’s as easy to get that right as it is to get it badly wrong.

Brand follows in the footsteps of Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach, a spoiled rich man with a kid’s outlook on life. The other thing that Arthur has is a drinking problem, although sometimes you feel Arthur’s drinking problem is nearer to that of Ted Striker than a real alcoholic, with Brand alternating between affecting the comedy slurring practiced by Dudley Moore in the original and sounding completely sober, often in consecutive scenes. His Arthur is a comedy drunk, except someone seems to have sucked out all the comedy from his performance, with the most risqué action being to snob a complete stranger at a restaurant. The loss of comedy, crucially, seems to stem from Brand attempting to channel Dudley Moore rather than putting his own stamp on the role, but he’s given precious little to work with and there’s a definite whiff of 100 studio executives in the editing room making sure that anything too unpalatable doesn’t make the cut.

While the comedy fares pretty poorly, some other elements do manage to rise above the material a little better. Most of those centre around either Helen Mirren, who’s far too good for this and isn’t afraid to prove it repeatedly, or Greta Gerwig. The movie is at its most effective either when Mirren is acting pithy or when Brand and Gerwig are casually flirting and throwing random thoughts into the conversation. There’s a whole host of other famous names involved, from Jennifer Garner in the thankless prospective wife role to Luis Guzman as the quiet chauffeur Bitterman, but none of them make any real impression either way.

The unfortunate exception to that is Nick Nolte, who plays the bride’s father and gets about three scenes. The first of these is meant to be mildly threatening but actually comes over as toe-curlingly embarrassing and almost kills the movie stone dead. It’s symptomatic of the wild shifts in tone which director Jason Winer seems ill-equipped to cope with. It doesn’t really work as a comedy, attempts at pathos fall flat and it’s only the partial romantic success and Helen Mirren that prevent this being a total write off. Sad to say, if you want to see one Russell Brand movie released this April, you should make it Hop, which at least allows Brand to be more Brand. Arthur is as embarrassing as a drunken relative at your school play, and a lot less amusing.

Why see it at the cinema: The audience I saw it with laughed once, so there’s not much to be gained there, but the Grand Central Terminal scenes do benefit from a larger viewing area.

The Score: 4/10