‘Arthur’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 7:06 am,

Arthur Review Arthur Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Arthur

Hollywood’s current obsession with rebooting classic film-brands (such as Annie, The Karate Kid, and soon The Three Stooges) has, for better or worse, just birthed the latest “reimagining” set to prey on moviegoers’ collective nostalgia – Arthur with UK comedian/actor Russell Brand in the titular role.

The original Arthur, starring Dudley Moore, premiered in 1981 to critical and commercial success – owing greatly to the smart and irreverent performance of its leading man. As a result, Arthur is still a timeless classic that, in spite of the aging look of the film stock, manages to tell a modern story of true love – albeit a silly one. In this remake Warner Bros. and director Jason Winer have attempted to refresh Arthur’s story for a new generation, hiring screenwriter Peter Baynham (Borat and Bruno) as well as replacing drunk driving and choo-choo trains with a Batmobile and Evander Holyfield.

So does the updated take on the classic comedy make this film a must-see like the original – or is Arthur further proof that Hollywood really needs to back off on remakes?

Unfortunately, Brand’s Arthur is representative of the latter notion. It’s an uneven movie, that not only copies an astonishing number of lines and set-pieces directly from the original, but any modern additions to the plot only serve to convolute the overarching narrative as well as pander to the audience by showering them one pop culture reference after another.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of the Arthur remake, here’s the synopsis:

Irresponsible charmer Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) has always relied on two things to get by: his limitless fortune and the good sense of lifelong nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) to keep him out of trouble. Now he faces his biggest challenge–choosing between an arranged marriage that will ensure his lavish lifestyle or an uncertain future with the one thing money can’t buy, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), the only woman he has ever loved. With Naomi’s inspiration and some unconventional help from Hobson, Arthur will take the most expensive risk of his life and finally learn what it means to become a man, in this re-imagining of the classic romantic comedy “Arthur.”

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Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in a scene from 'Arthur'

Brand offers the same rich and reckless man-child audiences will remember from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. Overall he’s fine in the role, and successfully comes alive (much like Moore did) in his interactions with fan-favorite character Hobson (a woman this round, played by Helen Mirren). Unfortunately he’s dead-faced in the more emotional moments. Mirren brings a lot of charm to the production, but despite her talents even the Academy Award-winner is mostly going through the motions – chained by a shocking amount of copy and pasted dialogue (not to mention entire scenes) from the original film. The lines and set pieces could have been a sweet throwback – if the new Arthur film had actually been made for fans of the original.

Greta Gerwig, who received loads of critical praise for her stand-out performance alongside Ben Stiller in Greenberg, is the only cast member who truly seems invested in rising to the more emotionally charged moments of the film (just look at Nick Nolte for the polar opposite) – and for the most part, she’s successful even when the overall production flounders.

In general, Arthur struggles with an inconsistent tone that asks comedy and dramedy fans to sit through a batch of penis jokes while also directly confronting the repercussions of alcoholism, death, and neglect. To its credit, the original Arthur never tried too hard to be much more than an irreverent comedy – and while it’s commendable that Brand’s Arthur strives to offer a meditation on self-empowerment, the ambition (coupled with the it’s heavy reliance on the original film) ultimately hinders the success of the remake by convoluting all of the over-the-top gags with some pretty heavy implications.

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Greta Gerwig as Naomi

Conversely, the more serious moments of the film (most of which occur at the end of the second act) are sadly far superior to the slapstick that dominates the rest of the production; but these touching or challenging moments are almost always proceeded by cheap or low-brow humor that undermines any emotional impact. It’s an unfortunate dichotomy that exemplifies how the remake branding actually works against the even better film that Winer and Co. could have made – had they just ditched the Arthur intellectual property.

As Hollywood continues to churn out remakes, it’s hard to understand how studio executives have become so disconnected from mainstream moviegoers. Fans of the original Arthur were never going to be wooed by Brand’s slapstick interpretation (as featured in the trailer) and conversely, it’s equally unlikely that many of Brand’s fans (who will undoubtedly be the core supporters of the new film) even know that Arthur is a remake. Assuming that the new Arthur is a success at the box office, it will have nothing to do with the film’s brand (little “b”) – the ticket sales will belong to Get Him to the Greek fans who want to see Brand dressed in the infamous nippled-Batsuit.

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Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach in a scene from the original film

While Brand’s Arthur definitely has moments of charm, there’s not a single moment in the film that was an improvement over Moore’s campy interpretation. When Hollywood announced a Land of the Lost remake, it made sense (from a business perspective) – given the high-profile brand and room to improve on the spectacle of the original series with updated CGI graphics and set-pieces (not that the film succeeded). This Arthur, on the other hand, would have been better off as a stand-alone property, so that it could find its own personal balance – without being restricted by superior source material.

Despite a moment in the film where Arthur describes Naomi as the girl who can’t be bought using a fleet of iconic movie-car replicas – given the heavy reliance on pop culture gags over charming character moments, the film doesn’t seem to have the same respect for its audience. Fans of slapstick dramedy will likely get some laughs out of the Arthur remake but, despite a few valiant attempts at reaching for something deeper, the film seems to be stuck in the same naïve adolescence as its titular character.

If you’re still on the fence about Arthur, check out the trailer below:

[poll id="144"]

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Arthur is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. I might have actually seen this for Peter Baynham’s screenplay (he’s had an impressive track record over the last two decades working on TV and radio shows with the likes of Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan and Simon Pegg), but it sounds like he hasn’t been able to deliver the goods on this one. Shame.

  2. Thanks for the honest review Ben.
    I will just see Source Code instead this weekend.

  3. “it’s equally unlikely that many of Brand’s fans (who will undoubtedly be the core supporters of the new film) even know that Arthur is a remake” that’s a bit of a patronising remark.

  4. I love movie reviews. Each reviewer has a different viewpoint and opinion about the film. It’s fantastic.

    Nice review. This will probably be a rental or rainy day movie. There are gags in the trailer that make me giggle which makes me want to see it. And that’s a semi big deal since I am not a fan of Brand’s work. Though he was good in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

  5. I think Sarah Marshall was a good showcase for Brand because he wasn’t the lead. He works better as a secondary character. As a lead, his acting gets tiresome pretty quick.

  6. Brand is a horrible actor (not to mention he comes off as a major d*ckwad in every interview I have ever seen). I didn’t even know he had any fans. No way do I see this film, and I am a fan of the original movie. Simon Pegg would have been a GREAT casting choice for this film, IMO.

  7. This is gonna bomb hard!

  8. I love Russell, I have the biggest man crush on him. I think in interviews he is very charming and witty. He does not come across as pretentious or as a “dickwad.” He is kind, respectful, grateful, likable, and down to earth. He knows what he has and he is cherishing every bit of it. I hate to see what talent that he does have wasted on a remake that shouldn’t have happened. Arthur is still a good movie and did not need an update. Brands humor had to be dumbed down and like someone else mentioned he works a lot better as a secondary character. They should have just used the main plot from Arthur and called it something different and then gone for an R rating since I am pretty sure a lot of 14 year olds aren’t going to see this. This is just what I think though and like I said, MANCRUSH.

    • Apparently you never saw him on Craig Ferguson. He redefined the definition of arrogant d-bag.

      I wouldn’t see this movie if I got to go with Alyssa Milano for FREE.

      • I saw him on Craig Ferguson and I thought he was hilarious. They both made fun of Americans. Who cares, plenty to be made fun of there.

      • What if Alyssa Milano PAID YOU to go with her? How about then?

  9. Also, really great timing on this one.
    Who’s paying to see a billionare deal with his lovelife problems these days?

    Does he even have a drinking problem?

    Horrible idea remaking this film.

    • 790,

      Heh, hadn’t even THOUGHT of that. Good point. 8)


    • Merely a question here:

      Which remake is better? Brand’s “Arthur” or Sandler’s “Mr. Deeds” from “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936)?

  10. I think the reviewer was looking for too much from this film. The original I’ve seen a million times, loved it (but always desperately despised Liza Minelli – she’s got about as much charisma as a stick) and was looking forward to this remake.

    It’s just a fluff movie, just like the old one was. Silly, stupid and slapstick with a teeny little bit o’ heart. You’re just asking too much from movies if you trod on stuff like this so hard.

    • I’d agree with your point if the film didn’t try and explore something deeper – especially considering the AA scene. There’s nothing funny about some of the subject matter featured there (i.e. a man recounting when he ran over his own mother because he was drunk). I’m all for seeing a good silly slapstick movie (there are plenty of good modern comedies), and Arthur would have been better if it had just been silly, but that’s not the film that Winer made. The finished film is a mish-mash between penis jokes and brooding self-destruction – and that’s why it’s ultimately unsuccessful.

      That said, it’s not like I said avoid the movie at all costs ;) But there are plenty of slapstick comedies I’d recommend before it.

  11. Liza Minelli, Rocks!


  12. I saw this last night and it was just a fun movie. I didn’t think they were trying to make any serious statements. It was simply entertaining. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Arthur and a female Hobson. It added a nice layer since you can see how Arthur and Vivienne interact.

  13. Saw this last night and don’t regret it. I thought this was a nice film, but think there’s aspects that could’ve been done better (poor Jennifer Gardner, they could’ve done a bit more with her character.) Like Jessie, I thought it was a fun film. I don’t know about it’s “over reliance” on pop culture. The only pop culture references were all the different cars and the Darth Vader helmet gag (which was actually amusing), it wasn’t like the story was dependent upon those references though. I never saw the original but was aware this is a remake and I think that was a bit to my advantage as it allowed me to go in without preconceived notions. I think two stars is a little harsh and after reading the review chalk that up more to this being a remake and expecting it to match the original, not so much on the film itself. Personally I think three stars is fair.

  14. Saw this film over the weekend. Being a fan of Brand and of the original film, I enjoyed it more than I would have if I had gone in without knowing either Brand or the character of Arthur Bach. I laughed a lot at this movie, because, like the original, it never took itself or its subject matter too seriously. A great idea to remake this movie…while I’m sure most won’t love this film, it should at least inspire you to go watch the original, which ages nicely (mostly due to Dudley Moore)

  15. Brand is a mouthy anti American liberal tw@t, I so look forward to this bombing.

  16. Well I wanted to see a comedy last night and this looked like the best choice around. Unfortunately I was not laughing hardly at all. Brand was not funny, I hated Jennifer Garner, Helen Mirren was ok but not great. The best thing about the movie was Greta the girlfriend. Even Arthur mother was pretty bad. I kept thinking back about Little Britain who the mother was in and laughing but that’s not the film unfortunately.

    Lame excuse to remake a film. Awful and they ruined a good story. They should have left Arthur alone. Now I have to rewatch the Dudley Moore version to wash this version off of my mind.

  17. Russell Brand is a bit like Marmite (Something we spread on toast in the UK that has an aquired taste.), you generally either love him or hate him. Maybe if you spread Justin Bieber on your toast you’d have the same effect.

    I can find him annoying at times but sometimes very funny. He is very tounge in cheek and things that people can take the wrong way and be offended by really are just poking fun at everybody. He is generally a good guest when on chat shows and is very intelligent and floral with the english language. I just think it’s a British thing that just sometimes doesn’t translate. We take the piss (ridicule) out of everyone, so don’t take it to heart.

  18. I think that this movie was pretty much made for people like me who never saw the original. I assume the original was pretty good from what I’ve heard, and Hollywood does need to stop stealing from the success of old movies, but Hollywood will be Hollywood. I’ve learned to accept it. So as a movie from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen the original, I’d give it 3/5 because as a movie it deserves 4 but I took one off for lack of originality. So 3/5 stars.