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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Nick Nolte, Luis Guzman, Geraldine James
DIRECTED BY
Jason Winer
SCREENPLAY
Peter Baynham (Screenplay), Steve Gordon (Story)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
105 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Warner Brothers
DVD EXTRAS
NA
 "Arthur" Review 
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Arthur still does as he pleases, but in this second go around starring Russell Brand in the semi-iconic role of lovable drunk Arthur Bach that was first made famous by the late Brit actor Dudley Moore Arthur is notably less innocent and displays quite a bit more Sandleresque naughtiness that fits because, well, this is Russell Brand and not Dudley Moore.

If you've witnessed the trailer, then you've likely had quite a difficult time deciding if this film is a "must see" or yet another lazy Hollywood remake. While the truth lies somewhere comfortably in the middle, the trailers for the film don't begin to tell the whole story and while the film is hardly a non-stop laughfest it is far more entertaining than expected thanks largely to a spirited ensemble cast that manages to both bow respectfully to the original while creating a unique flavor all its own.

There's no question that not everyone will fall in love with this cinematic beast, especially those with fond memories of the Moore/Liza Minnelli pairing who marveled at Moore's rather wondrous ability to be both childlike and nearly constantly drunk throughout the film. The fact that Moore turned his Arthur into such a sympathetic chap may very well have become the role that truly defined his long and respected career.

Arthur certainly won't be the role that defines Russell Brand's career, though it does allow the actor to flex his acting chops a bit and those who've never seen the 1981 original won't have anything to compare it to and will likely find much to appreciate here as this is vintage Russell Brand with a touch more emotion, a touch more playfulness and, at times, just plain touching.

This next statement, however, just may surprise you. I actually prefer Greta Gerwig's spin on the character first portrayed by Liza Minnelli, a portrayal that is infinitely more sweet, energized and may very well display the childlike wonder that we might've expected from Arthur himself. There's something about the way that Gerwig creates a more grounded and earthy contrast to Brand's larger than life extravagance as Arthur Bach that brings their relationship fully to life and creates that certain spark that makes his attraction to her completely and utterly believable. While Arthur may not define Russell Brand's career, it may very well be the film that seals the deal for the marvelous Gerwig.

As one might expect, Helen Mirren excels as Hobson, Arthur's lifelong "nanny" and companion. In a role that was defined by the legendary Sir John Gielgud, Mirren doesn't so much redefine the role as she does simply reshape it, soften it and humanize it. Gielgud took a more stereotypical British cinematic approach to the role, a sort of stoic presence of loyalty slight on emotion but big on presence. Mirren, also a Brit, manages to maintain that same level of presence but does so with a surprising degree of warmth and authenticity that adds an entirely new layer to the dynamic between her and Arthur.

Jennifer Garner seems to be having a blast as Susan, the woman to whom Arthur is to be wed in a marriage arranged by his rather beast of a mother (Geraldine James). Garner has made a career out of playing the "girl next door" type or the All-American dream girl type. Here, Garner gets to play the, well, snooty bitch and has fun doing so. While her character is just a touch underwritten here, especially the wedding scene that wraps up a bit too quickly and lacks conviction, her level of bitchiness complements Russell Brand's broad performance quite nicely.

Production values are rock solid throughout, undoubtedly at least partially a product of having a larger budget and technology being just a wee bit advanced in the 30 years since the original film. My only major beef with the film's tech aspects would be the steady collection of syrupy muzak style tunes that seemed to be playing throughout the film with exactly the right lyric at exactly the right moment to an almost eerie degree.

Not every joke is a home run in this updated Arthur, and while the film's only rated PG-13 it still manages to feel like a naughtier, less purely fun journey than the original picture. Peter Baynham's script capitalizes quite nicely upon the ensemble cast, likely evidence that things were tweaked a bit once the film was actually cast. Baynham does a nice job of more directly addressing Arthur's alcohol problem and, as well, lightheartedly but honestly exploring his family dynamics. First-time feature director Jason Winer probably lets Brand have his way with the film a bit too much, and scenes involving his more drunken adventures feel out of focus and rely way too heavily on unnecessary gimmicks like a Batmobile, weird statues, etc.

There will be, no doubt, those who diss this Arthur remake but rest assured that if Russell Brand is your cup of tea then it's pretty well assured that you'll enjoy quite a few laughs here. If, however, you find Brand's style of humor crass, lazy or just plain unfunny then it's quite doubtful that there's anything here that will change your mind. In that case, just go rent yourself the Dudley Moore original before deciding whether or not to catch this film.

This 21st century Arthur certainly isn't the comic masterpiece that was its predecessor, but neither is it the usual lazy Hollywood retread that we've seen so often lately. While it's more an update than an actual remake, behind genuinely appealing and entertaining performances from its ensemble cast Arthur has a little more heart, a little less humor but just as much alcohol as ever.

Now then, does anyone know where I can get a magnetic bed?


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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