01 April 2011


Russell Brand is shown in a scene from "Arthur."
The 1981 Dudley Moore comedy "Arthur" was successful on multiple levels. Its $82 million domestic box office take was the fourth best of the year, and it garnered four Academy Award nominations, winning best supporting actor for John Gielgud and best original song.

But it's not exactly a familiar title to movie-goers who were either not alive or too young to have seen it during its initial run, making it an unusual choice for a remake three decades later.

It makes a little more sense when you consider who is stepping into Moore's shoes in the lead role: British comedian Russell Brand, best known on these shores as hedonistic rock star Aldous Snow in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008) and its spin-off, "Get Him to the Greek" (2010).

The role of Arthur Bach, a perpetually drunk playboy heir to a family fortune worth nearly $1 billion, seems tailor-made for Brand's particular talents. He's essentially a tamer, more innocent version of Aldous Snow.

Brand has a unique presence on the screen and a very distinct rhythm that meshes well with Peter Baynham's ("Borat") witty, urbane script.

Brand plays Arthur as more astute and perceptive than Moore did. While Moore was just a lovable drunk, seemingly oblivious to the world around him, Brand's version, while still childlike and petulant, is aware of his detachment from those around him and the isolation that comes with living in his lavish penthouse apartment. The character also has been softened a bit, and his obvious alcoholism is not played solely for laughs.

Helen Mirren is Arthur's beloved nanny, Hobson, the role that won Gielgud his Oscar. Hobson masks her deep affection for Arthur with layers of disgust for his immature behavior. Cracks in her armor grow larger and larger throughout the movie.

Thinking only of the future of her family's corporation, Arthur's mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), blackmails him into proposing to Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a gold-digging heiress. Arthur's other option: lose his inheritance.

Reluctantly, he is prepared to go along with the scheme until he meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring writer of children's books who gives unlicensed tours of Grand Central Station to New York City tourists. Arthur is willing to give up everything for her—if you're familiar with Greta Gerwig, how can you blame him? (It's also worth noting that Gerwig is a major upgrade over Liza Minnelli.)

Director Jason Winer (making his feature debut after helming several episodes of the sitcom "Modern Family") hits most of the same beats as the original movie, though there are several new scenes (a bit in which Arthur tries to enter the workforce is particularly amusing) and the ending occurs at a later point in time.

There is no real reason for this movie to exist, but with Brand's winning star turn, it's likable and its heart is in the right place.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references. 110 minutes.)

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