Hollywood loves remakes. They have established characters and a basic storyline; plus, if the original was a success than it probably already has a following.
Now, Warner Bros. has re-made the 1981 comedy “Arthur” made famous by Dudley Moore’s performance in the title role. In the remake, first-time director Jason Winer and writer Steve Gordon (who co-wrote the original) hope to take the beloved character of Arthur and introduce him to a new generation.
In this updated version, Arthur (Russell Brand) is a young billionaire who acts out every whim his heart desires; whether that is buying the Batmobile to go joy-riding, having a full-size theater in his penthouse, or giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete strangers. And he does all of this in a drunken stupor. With his father deceased and a mother who doesn’t possess a nurturing bone in her fabulously-wealthy body, Arthur has been raised by his nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren).
When Arthur’s antics with his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman) land him in jail once again, his mother Vivienna (Geraldine James) tells him that he either marries the respectable Susan (Jennifer Garner) or he will lose his billion-dollar fortune. As soon as he accepts his fate, he runs into Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a freelance tour guide and is instantly smitten with her. As Naomi is the first girl who doesn’t want him for his money, he is genuinely intrigued by her. As his relationship with Naomi progresses, so do his wedding plans. Will Arthur be trapped in a loveless marriage or be poor with a women who genuinely cares for him?
This version of “Arthur” starts off in a dazzling and extravagant manner, showing us that he is rich beyond reason and can basically do what he likes. But the difference between this movie and the original is that the boyish charm from the Moore’s portrayal is gone. It is a bit confusing, because in Brand’s portrayal they show you how childish Arthur is and you think maybe he is mentally handicapped, but then he says some very intelligent things which contradict how you perceive him.
Overall, Russell Brand plays the part well — he is funny and outrageous. He just lacks the gentle subtlety required to make his portrayal of Arthur as enduring as Dudley Moore’s. While Moore’s version seemed whimsical and fun, Brand’s Arthur is just crude.
There is a great supporting cast of actors. The two pivotal relationships Arthur has in the movie are with his nanny Hobson and with Naomi. I really felt a connection between Brand and Mirren. It seemed like she could have raised him; she is a bit abrasive when dealing with his antics, but towards the end of the film they do have some touching scenes together. Greta Gerwig plays Naomi as a very ordinary girl who is extraordinary in her view on life and love. She is one of very few genuine characters in this movie.
More outrageous characters are Susan (Jennifer Garner) and her father, Burt (Nick Nolte). She is a power hungry business woman who will do whatever it takes to get to the top. Her character is pretty one dimensional and typical; her father on the other hand is crazy and over-the-top. He forces Arthur to put a piece of his anatomy centimeters from a running table saw.
In the end, fans of the original classic “Arthur” likely won’t be happy with this film, while fans of Russell Brand will laugh at his antics. I thought the film had funny parts, but not as many as I was anticipating. I did laugh a few times, but nothing was hilarious. While a lot of people in the theater enjoyed the movie, I walked out thinking, “I’m not sure how I feel about this movie.”
Ultimately, I’m giving a middle-of-the-road verdict on this one. I took some time to think about it, and while I can’t say that I would recommend “Arthur” to everyone, I’m sure teens will enjoy it — especially if they have no idea it’s a remake of a better movie.
“Arthur” is rated PG-13 for alcohol use, sexual content, language and drug references. It opens in theaters April 8.
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