EXPECTATIONS: The modern pillage and rape of the 1980s continues this week with the remake of Arthur. The original is a romantic comedy about Dudley Moore realizing how much he loves alcohol and money. For this remake to succeed, Russell Brand is going to have to knock off the retarded pirate act, crank up the charm and find a way to carry this film without resorting to a lot of slapstick. I suspect, however, that they're just going to turn the drunken sexhound into a useless manchild and have Helen Mirren do all the heavy lifting.
REALITY: I doubt you could find a more inappropriate film to remake during an economic recession than Arthur. Banks are foreclosing on homes, businesses are going under, but look! Here comes Russell Brand in a Batman costume, flinging money at anything with a pulse! All our problems are solved, because this lovable billionaire (the world's only, if you believe the tagline) is going to make everything solvent again! Only not really, because Arthur is less a parable about the dangers of irresponsible spending and more a cartoony love story starring Richie Rich.
'allo! It's just me, spyin' on ya while I 'ave a bath!
Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) is the sole heir to the Bach corporation, and as such is obscenely wealthy and without any responsibility. He spends his days boxing with Evander Holyfield and his nights riding around in cars from popular movies. His soon-to-be-dead mother gives him an ultimatum: Clean up his act and marry businesswoman Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), or forfeit his $950 million inheritance. Arthur begrudgingly complies, and soon thereafter falls in love with tour guide/writer/poor person Naomi (Greta Gerwig). With the help of his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) and chauffeur Bitterman (Luis Guzman), will Arthur make the right choice? Will he get to keep his money? Will he have to learn some hard lessons about the real world? Probably.
On its own, there really isn't anything wrong with Arthur as a film. "Agreeable" is probably the best word to describe it. While the plot is pretty much a point-for-point copy of the original, they completely fail to do anything interesting with the material. You can tell that the film wants to have something to say about the current economic downturn, but just can't muster the courage to say it. At one point Arthur goes to an auction and bids $100,000 on one of Tsar Nicholas II's silver spoons. A smart movie would have Arthur use that spoon to eat a giant bowl of SpaghettiOs. Then again, a smart movie would probably avoid such a ham-fisted visual metaphor in the first place.
Gasp! This joke has run its course!The big question surrounding this film is "Can Russell Brand fill Dudley Moore's shoes?" Moore elevated the original from a boring romantic comedy about a rich person to a tolerable romantic comedy about a rich person who laughs at his own jokes. It was at least fun watching Dudley Moore wallow around in his own spirits. Watching Russell Brand take his place is like watching a tap-dancing pirate reciting children's books (note: this is pretty much what he spends the film doing anyway). You can tell he's trying, but he's trying in all the wrong ways. I don't know how much of it was scripted versus how much Brand improvised, but a lot of it feels incredibly forced. Plus, because I've never been able to differentiate Russell Brand's act from his actual personality, I have no idea how well he's actually acting. "Right, so I just don the top hat and do my best Me impression?"
That said, there is some fun to be found in Arthur. Helen Mirren at least does right by John Gielgud in the role of Hobson. She manages to be every bit as funny and interesting to watch as Russell Brand without all the wild flailing and horrible one-liners. Then there's Nick Nolte, who crawled out from whatever rock he's taken residence under to remind us all that he's still batshit crazy. He makes his first appearance at the business end of a nail-gun, and his boiling hatred for Arthur (or Russell Brand, who can tell?) is palpable. I really wish he'd had more of a presence in the film; maybe then his brand of crazy-anger would balance out the film's overabundance of crazy-stupid.
Ultimately, I doubt Arthur is the kind of film anyone is going to remember thirty years from now. In fact, it's probably doomed to be remade again thirty years from now. While everyone involved tries like hell to make this into something worth watching, it instead winds up reminding the viewer of how little they have in common with the super-rich. Yes, we all daydream about having our own movie theater that plays nothing but Looney Tunes on an endless loop. Yes, we'd all like to bribe everyone in Grand Central Station to go home for a few hours so we could go on a first date. And yes, we all wish we had the Batmobile from Batman Forever (okay, maybe that's just me). But the only thing sadder than watching a film about a lonely rich person play with all his toys is knowing that some rich person paid $40 million to have that film made again.
|Batmobiles Destroyed||1 (You Assholes)|
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