By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Arthur spoils a golden opportunity
Russel Brand, Left, and Helen Mirren star in the remake of the 80s movie "Arthur." Though it had potential, almost all of it is wasted on a poor script and spotty character chemistry between Brand’s Arthur and love interest Naomi.


Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Geraldine James, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig and Nick Nolte.

Rated: PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references.

Runtime: 110 minutes

Bottomline: Not the best they could have done.



Hollywood continues to remake the 80s, and continues to do it badly.

Perhaps it’s because I came of age during that decade and lived through all these movies in their original runs, or perhaps it’s because half of my trips to the cinema these days are to see remakes. Either way, I am becoming exhausted by the dearth of new movie ideas.

For "Arthur," expectations ran a little higher than they do for most remakes because of the casting.

If a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore star vehicle was really necessary — more on that in a moment — then Russell Brand is the obvious choice to replace Moore. Brand inhabits the spoiled, drunken, developmentally arrested rich guy character with perfect comedic timing and wit sharper than a gilded letter opener.

Just as in the original, his Arthur is forced to choose between love and money. His ice queen of a mother (Geraldine James) gives him an ultimatum: in order to keep his inheritance, Arthur must marry the equally frigid Susan (Jennifer Garner). Susan will run the family business, and Arthur can go on indulging in his alcoholic, frivolous lifestyle.

Arthur grudgingly agrees to marry Susan but then promptly meets a spirited, idealistic girl named Naomi (Greta Gerwig). It’s love at first sight for Arthur, and he begins to court Naomi without breaking off his engagement with Susan, which will, of course, provide the movie’s big complication.

The movie’s most significant update is that Hobson, the butler played memorably by John Gielgud in the original, is a nanny played by Helen Mirren.

Brand and Mirren are brilliant together and provide all of the movie’s best scenes. Arthur acts out, Hobson disapproves, but their love and odd bond comes through always.

That’s where praise for the movie ends. Brand’s quips are funny, Brand and Mirren’s chemistry injects a little heart, but almost everything else fails.

Gerwig is fine, but she and Brand are not a believable couple. Garner once again does her darndest to compensate for an under-written role. Nick Nolte, as Susan’s father, takes his role way over the top, morphing a self-made man into a psychopath.

Nothing can overcome the fact that the title character has numerous problems to begin with. He’s like a loud, slovenly variation of a Henry James character — a member of the leisure class who lacks the courage to do things like take personal responsibility, approach problems directly and honestly, and most importantly, just get a job.

Any movie that wants me to sympathize with a billionaire who can’t grow up, especially in 2011, would have to be written extremely well, and "Arthur" does not pull it off.

The second half attempts repeatedly to moralize and teach Arthur lessons about poverty, alcoholism and love. But Arthur never has to hit bottom. He never has to face real consequences for his drunken exploits, and he never has to experience life without billions.

The movie made me laugh many times, but it gets progressively slower until we trudge through the last act at a painful pace. Its 110 minutes feel more like three hours.

The filmmakers doomed the movie by not just sticking with comedy. Brand and Mirren are the only things keeping it from failing completely.

So was this remake necessary? Does it update the original to make it relevant to our time?

"Arthur" had a real shot at being necessary. We’ve all been reconsidering the importance of money and possessions for years now, so a character forced to do the same thing makes sense.

Rather than speaking to our time, though, the movie panders to it. Arthur does go to work briefly, lasting one day at a toy store. Rather than treating a character going through the Alcoholics Anonymous program with due respect, the movie practically mocks it.

"Arthur" provides some laughs but is ultimately a disappointing, missed opportunity.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.