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.”

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.

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.

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:

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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