25 April 2011

ARTHUR- Review

Like Tony Scott's rubbish remake, The Taking of Pelham 123, there's only so much I can say about Russell Brand's new film, Arthur, without referring back to Arthur, the 1981 Dudley Moore romcom on which its based. In both cases, I think the original films are classics, but at the same time, I'm not using the original as a stick to beat the new film.

The plot remains intact, as Brand plays Arthur Bach, the alcoholic heir to an enormous business and an incredible fortune. Accordingly, Arthur lives life to the fullest, despite not having any practicality in the real world. When shareholders start to get anxious about Arthur's antics, his mother attempts to marry him off to a maleficent heiress called Susan, just as he happens to fall in love with a "poor person" called Naomi.

A number of beats and gags are recycled wholesale from the 1981 film into this equivalent, 30 years later, but I can at least give this film credit for not being a verbatim rehash. The unfortunate effect of the sporadic callbacks, however, was to remind me about how good the original film was. It's almost like this remake refers back in order to stay afloat, but personally, my nostalgia for the original dragged it down like an anchor.

Retooled as a vehicle for Russell Brand's rising star in the States, a lot of the subtleties of the story go out the window. I'm not pretending that Dudley Moore did a lot else but fall over and laugh drunkenly, but there was point and purpose and a consistent character in that. Despite some nice emotional scenes that show that there's more to him, Brand is really rather witty for someone as supposedly sheltered and childish as Arthur, That makes Arthur less of a showcase for his spurious acting range- which is up there with UFOs and Bigfoot, if his last few films are anything to go by- and more of a chance for him to cut loose and be funny as himself. Again.

The difficulty there is that the film isn't all that funny. There are some decent laughs in the first half, but once the more sentimental side of proceedings kicks in, or even before that, when we follow the "rom" side of the romcom, it becomes a little more solemn. The subtleties that did make it into the original are missed most of all in this latter stage of the film. What sums it all up for me is that they didn't try and find another actor to replace John Gielgud's Oscar winning turn as Arthur's faithful servant Hobson- they just switched genders and cast Helen Mirren. There's their approach, really. The filmmakers aren't trying to improve on the original- they're merely doing it again, but a bit different.

It's not that Mirren isn't good as Hobson, now reconfigured as a more obviously affectionate figure, because her maternal chemistry with Brand makes him up his game too, so their scenes together are easily the best parts of the film. I also enjoyed the venomous performances by Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte, even if they seem to completely disappear in the middle part of the film as we trot through some non-sequential situational comedy. Hell, in their absence, I'd go so far as to say Helen Mirren anchors the whole thing. She's pure class in her role, and she makes the best case scenario out of the repetitive adaptation.

Distinctly less classy is the way in which everything has now been branded. Not Russell Branded, but licenced with advertisements for other Hollywood properties. Arthur begins the film dressed as Batman and driving the Batmobile from the Schumacher films. Later we see the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a Darth Vader voice changer helmet (now available in all good retailers!) and a cinema that loops Looney Tunes cartoons all day long. It's crass in a way that the rest of the film can't be with a 12A certificate, and ultimately, it annoyed the shit out of me.

Fans of Russell Brand can always find enjoyment watching him lark about, and Helen Mirren holds firm against the overwhelming baggage of her role from John Gielgud, but Arthur plays like a frequently over-used gag. The laughs are definitely there, the romantic comedy is embedded very well, and it's really not as bad as critics have made out. On the other hand, it's another unnecessary remake, and one which really has nothing fundamentally different from the first time around.

Arthur is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Arthur, why not share your comments below? The film's biggest mistake? They didn't use that theme song...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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