*½/**** Image B Sound A- Extras C-
starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner
screenplay by Peter Baynham, based on the film Arthur written and directed by Steve Gordon
directed by Jason Winer
by Ian Pugh Boy, that Russell Brand sure does talk a lot, doesn't he? Jason Winer's modernization of Steve Gordon's 1981 comedy Arthur serves as your latest reminder that Brand is turning his long-winded rambling into a full-blown comic empire--and it's a good thing it makes that point perfectly clear, because otherwise I can't think of any reason why this remake exists. Brand's slurring motormouth is on full display here, and he's such a suffocating presence that Arthur Bach's now-famous inebriety hardly plays a role. Who needs booze when you've got an immature dude who just won't shut up? Of course, the character is still nominally an alcoholic--and the film attempts to "fix" that problem in precisely the wrong way. Fearing it will be seen as an implicit endorsement of excessive drinking, Arthur launches into an overwritten screed about the attendant dangers of same, somehow assuming that Gordon's original didn't comprehend the seriousness of its own premise. Between that mistaken belief and its broad, bland humour, the picture might be more accurately considered a remake of the notorious Arthur 2: On the Rocks.
Following thirty-plus years of pampered decadence, legendary souse Arthur has been given an ultimatum: he must marry fellow blueblood Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner) or else lose his right to the family fortune. It's a variation on an age-old trope, but Gordon managed to find something profoundly sad about the whole idea. A born misfit, Dudley Moore's Arthur was an impulsive drunk whose childish excesses at once defied and embodied the worst aspects of the Park Avenue set. Brand's Arthur is a good-time Charlie who throws money around a little carelessly every now and then. You're actually somewhat surprised when Arthur '11 declares that its title character has a drinking problem, since the film has presented his antics as nothing short of delightful. Here's Arthur dressed up as Batman. In Doc Brown's DeLorean. Buying Star Wars toys! (It's fun because it's pop culture!) No one ever really gets hurt* (least of all Arthur himself!), and besides, if you owned Joel Schumacher's Batmobile, you'd probably go joyriding, too, right? Consequently, the picture's petty moralizing about maturity and alcoholism backfires in the worst way. What exactly is there to learn beyond the fact that being Arthur is, like, totally awesome?
That casts the driving forces behind Arthur's inevitable "conversion"--this time, it's Arthur's mother (Geraldine James) and nanny (Helen Mirren, filling in for John Gielgud) instead of his father and butler--as forbidding killjoys who only distract from the next wild escapade. Thanks to the casual gender switches and shrewish transformations in the supporting cast (Susan's become a vindictive, sex-crazed psychopath), this re-imagining reveals some kind of axe to grind about women. There's a constant, emasculating presence in Arthur's life, creating a chauvinistic nightmare that drives our hero into the arms of children's book writer/romantic interest Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig). She flat-out tells Arthur that she will not mother him, but what is her function if not to ennoble him as a well-meaning fool? Not quite a manic pixie dream girl, Naomi is still a shallow construct who teaches Arthur the finer points of lower-than-upper-class life, which in turn only facilitates Arthur's appreciation of his wealth. (Gerwig, for what it's worth, seems like the perfect candidate to inherit a role from Liza Minnelli, but yet another 2011 mainstream release has failed to capitalize on the uniqueness of her charms.) Ultimately, Arthur is just another weak product from the remake factory--one that has excised all meaning from its predecessor in favour of high-concept gruel that can't possibly offend anyone. As in the original film, nothing really changes by the end of the story; there's never any question or explanation as to why a lazy boozer like Arthur deserves everything he wants. Unlike in the original film, that sense of entitlement isn't a critique of a capitalistic culture gone awry--it's an example of it. Too bad. Originally published: April 8, 2011.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings the 2011 remake of Arthur to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p transfer. The film was shot on 35mm but, with its ludicrously pumped-up colours, steep blacks, and noisy sharpness, has, at least in this incarnation, the faux-cinematic glossy-gloss of high-end TV--which is perhaps only natural, given that director Jason Winer hails from television. (DP Uta Briesewitz likewise shoots things like the HBO series "Hung" between features. What's curious is that she and Winer would lean so heavily on long lenses, which are antithetical to this kind of antic humour.) The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track occasionally uncorks the subwoofer and surrounds to ape the thunder of the Batman movies or make us virtual participants in a bacchanal, but otherwise it represents your typical hemispheric, near-monophonic comedy mix. Not counting startup previews for Warner's Blu-ray slate and Insider Rewards program, the disc also includes the featurette "Arthur Unsupervised" (11 mins., HD), a making-of-cum-outtakes compilation that showcases Russell Brand at his randy best (worst?), with co-star Jennifer Garner mostly embarrassing herself trying to keep up; a ten-minute block of eight deleted scenes (presented in HD though looking degenerated, these are by and large scene extensions that seem conspicuously improvised); and a blooper reel that bleeps expletives for the first time in these extras. A DVD/Digital Copy rounds out the combo-pack. Originally published: July 26, 2011.
*It should be noted that Arthur accidentally shoots Susan's maniacal father Burt (Nick Nolte, in a thankless cameo) with a nailgun, but it's a slapstick moment that establishes Burt's terrifying presence more than Arthur's dangerous negligence. return