In 1981 a movie came out with Dudley Moore and John Geilgud about a spoiled rich British drunk and his butler called Arthur. The movie did very well, spawning two Oscar nominations and even a win for Geilgud. Fast forward 30 years to find that Arthur is remade with Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Helen Mirren (Red, The Queen) but only this time it won't play to such fanfare. There's a number of reasons why that is though and it's not just because remakes usually suck and fall flat without offering us something new and exciting.
The first is that Brand is a polarizing figure. His fame train is quickly going up the mountain of success but I wish it would derail. It's not that I don't like Brand or don't find him funny; he's just way too much to take in as a lead character. When he played smaller, supporting roles that were quirky and unlikable he was more in his element. But rooting for him to find love with Greta Gerwig's (Greenburg, House of the Devil) character in Arthur is off-putting to say the least.
Another possible reason why Arthur doesn't work this time around is that in 1981, America was in great financial shape for the most part. People had jobs, they were making money and there was this feeling that everyone could be a millionaire one day. 2011 is very different though and that kind of fiscal optimism doesn't seem to be prevalent anymore. So sitting back in a theater you paid $10 per person to watch a movie about a guy that could buy the theater for himself just to have some popcorn is a little nauseating. You find yourself thinking, "Why the hell do I care if anything works out for this guy? He's giving up billions in inheritance for some girl...f**k that! I'll give up my own kids for that right now."
But mostly the reason why this remake of Arthur doesn't work is because it's not very funny. During a packed screening of the film, the most I heard from the audience were light chuckles that rippled through like someone tossed a comedy pebble into a pond. There wasn't one big belly laugh that brought the house down. Mirren is amusing as she takes on the role that won Geilgud the Oscar, but since she already has one for her own it seems like she just puts in enough effort to make it fun but not funny.
The best performances come from Jennifer Gardner (Juno, 13 Going on 30) and Luis Guzman (The Count of Monte Cristo, Boogie Nights) who are great comedic accents to the movie. They each play characters that are out of their usual character wheelhouse and both put themselves out there for mocking in refreshing scenes that try their best to defibrillate the film back to life.
Brand was also a producer of this movie and has said that he desperately wanted to remake it. Since, outside of changing the sex of one of the characters, nothing new or original was done for this remake, I'd say that Brand remade it out of pure ego. That is probably the umbrella for which all his other flaws are underneath and in Arthur it shows.
Arthur (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-