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Arthur (2011)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Less irritating than the original, anyway."
3 stars

To those who hold up the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy "Arthur" as if it were a snifter of fine brandy, I have to ask: Have you seen it lately?

It hasn't aged well; aside from John Gielgud's deservedly Oscar-winning exercise in dry wit, which remains evergreen, it's a dreary throwback to fizzier '30s comedies of manners, with Moore falling about and cackling tirelessly, Liza Minnelli in that stage of her career when there could only be the thinnest pretense that she was playing anyone other than Liza Minnelli, and that ghastly Christopher Cross theme song, also (far less deservedly) Oscar-winning. What may have been refreshingly retro thirty years ago is now doubly musty.

Which is not to make any bold claims for the new Arthur, with the lanky, amiably decadent Russell Brand in for Moore and the mock-forbidding Helen Mirren in for Gielgud. The idea of Mirren as the new Hobson, the disdainful but covertly loving valet of the tippling heir Arthur (Brand), looks good on paper. But Mirren, delivering some of the same dialogue Gielgud did, can't really compete. And without any wildness or complexity to reveal, Mirren seems stranded. Two other actresses come off better. In the Minnelli role of the free-spirited woman Arthur loves but isn't supposed to, here substantially rewritten, Greta Gerwig actually is as enchanting as Minnelli's character was supposed to be. And Jennifer Garner, as the woman Arthur is meant to marry but doesn't love, creates a soulless businesswoman who doesn't really love Arthur either but wants the old-money cred of his name.

The premise is archetypal: Arthur must marry this horrid woman or he'll lose his inheritance (here upgraded to $950 million from the original's $750 million). But we don't want to see him disregard his fortune any more than he wants to do it. The point of both films is that Arthur the coddled man-child in his kingdom of playthings must grow up enough to be willing to give it all up for true love. I hate to say it, but Russell Brand enacted a similar bad-boy-reforms arc last year in Get Him to the Greek, and he was funnier there; that comedy, for all its sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, was the real 21st-century Arthur. And it had better songs; this one gives us a soundtrack of twee romantic ditties, including a Fitz & the Tantrums end-credits cover of "Arthur's Theme," which, like the rest of the film, is a less annoying remake but no great shakes either.

During those end credits we see Arthur and his love depicted as if in a storybook. It looks a little like the illustrations Eric Chase Anderson does for the Criterion DVD editions of his brother Wes' films, and that made me imagine a Wes Anderson remake of Arthur. It would be exponentially drier, perhaps with Owen Wilson as Arthur and Bill Murray as his valet (or perhaps his chauffeur, a role here that wastes the comedic gifts of Luis Guzman). When a movie has ended and you're left thinking about an alternate version of it, that movie is probably in trouble.

Otherwise, "Arthur" peddles the comforting fiction that love trumps money, without quite acknowledging that life is more easily negotiable for people with money but no love than for those with love but no money. As Keith Richards put it when deriding the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love": "Yeah, try payin' the bills with it."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21886&reviewer=416
originally posted: 04/10/11 19:54:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/15/11 stephen nettles Not funny 1 stars
5/03/11 Luis Russell Brand is hilarious to me! 3 stars
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  08-Apr-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Jul-2011


  DVD: 05-Jul-2011

Directed by
  Jason Winer

Written by
  Russell Brand
  Peter Baynham

  Russell Brand
  Greta Gerwig
  Helen Mirren
  Jennifer Garner
  Nick Nolte

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